Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Research project

Unravelling the genes responsible for life history traits in the giant woody cabbage (Brassica oleracea)

Which genes are involved in woodiness and associated traits such as drought tolerance, flowering time, stem elongation, life span, and plant herbivory, and how do these gene regulatory pathways overlap?

Frederic Lens
Naturalis Biodiversity Center Naturalis Biodiversity Center
Plant Ecology and Phytochemistry

Short abstract

When herbs and trees germinate, they both start from a tiny seedling, which develops into a small non-woody mature plant in the former and into a woody giant in the latter. To this day, scientists have failed to provide satisfying answers why and how these contrasting life forms have evolved. We have crossed a giant woody, late flowering cabbage accession (Jersey kale) with a small, rapid flowering cabbage accession (TO1000) belonging to the same species (Brassica oleracea), and created 196 F2 genotypes. In this F2 population, the contrasting features of the grandparents are segregating, such as woodiness, drought stress resistance, flowering time, developmental speed, stem elongation, life span, and plant herbivory resistance. This allows us to find Quantitative Trait Loci (QTLs). These QTLs make it possible to detect connection between these traits at the genetic level, and they present the first step in the discovery of the underlying genes. In a second step, we will explore how the gene regulatory pathways leading to woodiness, drought tolerance and flowering time are (de)coupled. 

Project description

An ongoing study has identified about 100 independent evolutionary transitions from herbaceousness towards woodiness in the mustard family Brassicaceae, making this lineage an excellent model group to investigate: 
(1) the link between woodiness and drought stress and other co-evolving life history features, 
(2) to explore the genetic mechanism behind the traits of interest across this set of 100 independent phylogenetic sister groups.

The two contrasting grandparent lineages at the left (giant Jersey kale and TO1000), and five F2 individuals at the right-hand side that flower between 38 and 150 days after potting.
Tissue culture plants representing the TO1000 parent (left), one of the F1 individuals (middle) and the Jersey kale parent (right).

We have set up a tissue culture line of a cross consisting of the Jersey kale – a giant woody, late-flowering, walking stick cabbage, with TO1000 – a small, rapid flowering accession belonging to the same species (Brassica oleracea). The reciprocal cross of an early and a late flowering F1 has been carried out, and we are observing that the contrasting features of the grandparents, such as woodiness and flowering time, are segregating in the F2 population. We are currently phenotyping these characters, together with traits related to drought stress resistance, developmental speed, stem elongation, life span, and plant herbivory. 

People with complementary expertise are welcome to join this project. Please contact Frederic Lens.

Ongoing projects

This project has generated several topics for BSc and MSc internships. For more information, please contact Frederic Lens.


  • Karami O, Rahimi A, Khan M, Bemer M, Hazarika RR, Mak P, Compier M, van Noort V, Offringa R. 2020. A suppressor of axillary meristem maturation promotes longevity in flowering plants. Nature Plants 6: 368-376.

  • Dória LC, Podadera DS, del Arco M, Chauvin T, Smets E, Delzon S, Lens F. 2018. Insular woody daisies (Argyranthemum, Asteraceae) are more resistant to drought-induced hydraulic failure than their herbaceous relatives. Functional Ecology 32: 1467-1478

  • Lin T, Klinkhamer PGL, Vrieling K. 2017. Parallel evolution in an invasive plant: effect of herbivores on competitive ability and regrowth of Jacobaea vulgaris. Ecology Letters: 18: 668-676

  • Davin N, Hefer CA, Edger PP, Mizrachi E, Schuetz M, Smets E, Myburg AA, Douglas CJ, Schranz ME, Lens F. 2016. Functional network analysis of genes differentially expressed during xylogenesis in soc1ful woody Arabidopsis plants. The Plant Journal 86: 376-390

This website uses cookies.  More information.