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Regulation of gene expression plays a central role in translating genotypic variation into phenotypic variation. Dissection of the genetic basis of expression variation is key to understanding how expression regulation evolves. Such analyses remain challenging in contexts where organisms are outbreeding, highly heterozygous and long-lived such as in the case of conifer trees. We developed an RNA sequencing (RNA-seq)-based approach for both expression-quantitative trait locus (eQTL) mapping and the detection of cis-acting (allele-specific) vs trans-acting (non-allele-specific) eQTLs. This method can be potentially applied to many conifers. We used haploid and diploid meiotic seed tissues of a single self-fertilized white spruce (Picea glauca) individual to dissect eQTLs according to linkage and allele specificity. The genetic architecture of local eQTLs linked to the expressed genes was particularly complex, consisting of cis-acting, trans-acting and, surprisingly, compensatory cis-trans effects. These compensatory effects influence expression in opposite directions and are neutral when combined in homozygotes. Nearly half of local eQTLs were under compensation, indicating that close linkage between compensatory cis-trans factors is common in spruce. Compensated genes were overrepresented in developmental and cell organization functions. Our haploid-diploid eQTL analysis in spruce revealed that compensatory cis-trans eQTLs segregate within populations and evolve in close genetic linkage.

Original publication




Journal article


New Phytol

Publication Date





159 - 171


Picea glauca, allele-specific gene expression, cis-trans compensation, evolution of gene expression, expression-quantitative trait locus (eQTL), gymnosperms, stabilizing selection, Alleles, Diploidy, Gene Expression Regulation, Plant, Genetic Linkage, Genetics, Population, Haploidy, Picea, Quantitative Trait Loci, Self-Fertilization, Sequence Analysis, RNA