Péter Poczai


Curriculum Vitae

Research interests

Mainly concentrated on evolutionary biology including many sub-disciplines and organisms, including fungi (Macrophomina, Sphaeropsis) and plants (Viscum, Ambrosia, Nymphaea, Primula, Solanum). Other interests cover various topics in molecular ecology, plant genetics, phylogenetics and systematics, plant breeding and basic molecular genetics plus biotechnology.

Solanum: phylogeny, biology and utilization

Solanum is a genus of nearly 1,400 species and only a small portion of them are cultivated. It is obvious that we should aim to use the traits provided by the large and unexplored diversity. This genus is important from an agricultural perspective as well as from an evolutionary standpoint. The genus consists of valuable crops like eggplant, tomato, and especially potato, all economically extremely important in European agriculture. Potato ranks as the world’s third most important food crop, with increasing production worldwide. Species of Solanum represent nearly 1% of the world’s angiosperm flora, which might be attributed to its great antiquity and an extraordinary rate of speciation. This huge diversity in one genus is quite unusual in angiosperms. Exotic germplasm resources, which include wild species and landraces, often carry many agriculturally desirable alleles and unknown evolutionary history. Wild Solanum species have been known for long time to be resistant to many pathogens. Therefore wild resistant species have been used in studies aimed at the identification of disease resistance genes. Due to the large diversity of Solanaceae, wild species with important traits could also be important minor food crops in some parts of the world, while the same species can become invasive weeds of agriculture and rural habitats. In addition, these plants could also serve as alternative hosts for major diseases for crop plants.

1. Genetic diversity of European wild Solanum (Solanaceae)

Only a few Solanum species are native in Europe. The most important ones include Solanum dulcamara and S. nigrum belonging to the Dulcamaroid and Morelloid clades of Solanum. The Dulcamaroid clade contains about 43 species while the Morelloid clade is consists of 68 accepted species. Both of these European species are reported to be alternative hosts for many agriculturally important diseases including the potato quarantine pathogen Ralsonia solanacearum (Smith) Yabuuchi et al., causing bacterial wilt, and Phytophthora infestans (Mont.) de Bary, a dangerous oomycete and causal agent of late blight. Both mentioned European species are highly resistant to late blight, the most dangerous disease of potato production. Interestingly the phylogeny and population biology of these two species, or their higher level relatives, has not yet been investigated in detail using molecular level characters. Very little is known about their biology and reproduction despite the fact that they offer unexploited genetic resources right here in Europe.

2. Phylogeny of the Morelloid and Dulcamaroid clades

The primary centre of diversity of Solanum is known to be in the Andes. However, our detailed knowledge about phylogeny and population genetics of native European species is currently lacking. This might be due to the fact that genetic resource exploration of Solanum has mainly been undertaken in Central and South America. The potential utility and phylogeny of European species such as S. dulcamara or S. nigrum as sources of valuable traits (mainly resistance genes) has not been thoroughly studied. No projects have yet been initiated to study genetic variability and origin (phylogeny) of native European Solanum species. This project will have general importance and contribute to Solanum biology and it will enhance our knowledge about taxonomy of the genus. Despite the fact that these groups have recently been studied based on morphological characters their taxonomy is still unsettled and debated. The Morelloid/Dulcamaroid group is one of the most variable ones in the whole genus, and a comprehensive phylogeny and taxonomic treatment based on molecular level characters has not yet been performed. Thus the primary aim of the project is to provide a molecular based biogeographical and taxonomic treatment involving all species of these clades on global scale.  We also want to study the history of their biogeography, and try to figure out introduction routes of the most widespread species. Our work will also settle confused and still debated taxonomic topics of species origin (e.g. S. nigrum, S. opacum) and help in species delimitation (e.g. S. americanum, S. nodiflorum). The study will continue with the analysis of genetic diversity of certain species (S. nigrum and S. dulcamara) in Europe. These results will be compared with genetic diversity of historical populations from the 18th century till present day. 

3. Historical genetic diversity analysis of European Solanum species

Phylogeny of the highly polymorphic Solanum nigrum species group, botanically sect. Solanum,or Morelloid clade, is not yet settled. Phylogenetic treatment including all species of the group is still lacking. The same applies to its closest relatives of the Dulcamaroid clade, where the other native European species, S. dulcamara, belongs. The proposed project will attend to fill this gap by providing valuable insights into the evolution of these two clades based on robust phylogenetic analysis of large datasets of chloroplast and nuclear DNA sequences. This comprehensive treatment will expand our knowledge on the evolution and origin of the European species and their relatives. Since both S. nigrum and S. dulcamara are highly resistant to Phytophthora infestans the proposed phylogenetic, population genetic work with historical and present day sampling can help us to understand the origin of this trait and further contribute to its utilization and introgression to solanaceous crop gene pools. This analysis can provide answers to a number of questions: How these resistance traits evolved in European species? Was there a population bottleneck in the genetic diversity of European native species in the 19th century after the great Irish famine (caused by Phytophthora)? Is it possible that diversity of these species was lost and they re-colonized Europe from small, resistant and isolated populations? Or is it a novel trait that enabled some representatives to survive through the most dramatic plant disease outbreak in European history? Or do present day populations result from post-glacial re-colonization?

4. Phylogeny and biogeography of kangaroo apples (subg. Archaesolanum)

Solanum L.subgenus Archaesolanum Bitter ex Marzell, often called kangaroo apples, is composed of eight species occurring only in the SW Pacific region (Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea). The group is characterized by its unique chromosome number (x = 23), possibly resulting from an aneuploid loss from a polyploid (x = 24) ancestor. This unique feature makes Archaesolanum particularly interesting from an evolutionary standpoint. However, genetic relationships and how this interesting chromosome number has developed are unknown. In addition, phylogeny of this group has not yet been studied utilizing molecular tools despite the fact that many molecular studies on phylogenetic relationships within the genus Solanum have included one or two representative species from the subgenus. Compared to other clades, evolutionary dynamics, biogeography, dispersal, radiation and genetic diversity of the group are poorly known.

5. Chromosome evolution of Archaesolanum

Kangaroo apples (subg. Archaesolanum) are a distinct case among polyploids of Solanum species. Interestingly, species have generated a further secondary polyploid series. Consequently, these diploids (x = 46, e.g. S. aviculare) could be better regarded as “tetraploids” – in terms of the x = 12, typical basic chromosome number of the genus – while tetraploids of the group (x = 92, e.g. S. multivenosum) are therefore better understood as “octoploids”. In other words, it is presumed that the early ancestor of this group has gone through a simple ploidy increase accompanied by a chromosome loss and then the duplication has been repeated. Despite the name, suggesting an archetypal Solanum, the chromosome number indicates a derived condition which has itself become polyploid, probably reached by aneuploid loss from n = x = 24. It is clear that all species based on secondary gametic numbers are polyploid; in the case of secondary polyploidy but how this interesting structure developed presently can only be speculated. We are up to investigating these intersting processes of speciation. 

Find out More at the Solanaceae Source


Highlighted publications

  1. Complete chloroplast genome sequence of Coyote tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata, Solanaceae)

    Poczai, P., Amiryousefi, A. & Hyvönen, J. T. 2017 In : Mitochondrial DNA Part B, Resources. 2, 2, p. 761 762 p.

    Research output: Scientific - peer-reviewArticle

  2. The plastid genome of the invasive plant common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia, Asteraceae)

    Amiryousefi, A., Hyvönen, J. T. & Poczai, P. 2017 In : Mitochondrial DNA Part B, Resources. 22, p. 753-743 2 p.

    Research output: Scientific - peer-reviewArticle

  3. The plastid genome of Vanillon (Vanilla pompona, Orchidaceae)

    Amiryousefi, A., Hyvönen, J. T. & Poczai, P. 2017 In : Mitochondrial DNA Part B, Resources. 2, 2, p. 689 691 p.

    Research output: Scientific - peer-reviewArticle

  4. Genome sequencing and population genomic analyses provide insights into the adaptive landscape of silver birch

    Salojärvi, J., Smolander, O-P., Nieminen, K., Rajaraman, S., Safronov, O., Safdari, P., Lamminmäki, A., Immanen, J., Lan, T., Tanskanen, J., Rastas, P., Amiryousefi, A., Jayaprakash, B., Kammonen, J. I., Hagqvist, R., Eswaran, G., Ahonen, V. H., Serra, J. A., Asiegbu, F. O., Barajas-Lopez, J. D. D., Blande, D., Blokhina, O., Blomster, T., Broholm, S., Brosche, M., Cui, F., Dardick, C., Ehonen, S. E., Elomaa, P., Escamez, S., Fagerstedt, K. V., Fujii, H., Gauthier, A., Gollan, P. J., Halimaa, P., Heino, P. I., Himanen, K., Hollender, C., Kangasjarvi, S., Kauppinen, L., Kelleher, C. T., Kontunen-Soppela, S., Koskinen, J. P., Kovalchuk, A., Karenlampi, S. O., Kärkönen, A. K., Lim, K-J., Leppälä, J., Macpherson, L., Mikola, J., Mouhu, K., Mähönen, A. P., Niinemets, U., Oksanen, E., Overmyer, K., Palva, E. T., Pazouki, L., Pennanen, V., Puhakainen, T., Poczai, P., Possen, B. J. H. M., Punkkinen, M., Rahikainen, M. M., Rousi, M., Ruonala, R., van der Schoot, C., Shapiguzov, A., Sierla, M., Sipilä, T. P., Sutela, S., Teeri, T. H., Tervahauta, A. I., Vaattovaara, A., Vahala, J., Vetchinnikova, L., Welling, A., Wrzaczek, M., Xu, E., Paulin, L. G., Schulman, A. H., Lascoux, M., Albert, V. A., Auvinen, P., Helariutta, Y. & Kangasjarvi, J. 8 May 2017 In : Nature Genetics. 49, 6, p. 904-912 12 p.

    Research output: Scientific - peer-reviewArticle

  5. Imre Festetics and the Sheep Breeders’ Society of Moravia: Mendel’s Forgotten “Research Network”

    Poczai, P., Bell, N. & Hyvönen, J. 2014 In : PLoS Biology. 12, 1, 5 p., e1001772

    Research output: Scientific - peer-reviewArticle

  6. Advances in plant gene-targeted and functional markers: a review

    Poczai, P., Varga, I., Laos, M., Cseh, A., Bell, N., Valkonen, J. & Hyvönen, J. 2013 In : Plant Methods. 9, 31 p., 6

    Research output: Scientific - peer-reviewReview Article

View all (37) »

Highlighted activities

  1. Thünen Institute of Wood Research

    Poczai, P. (Visiting researcher)
    7 Jun 201710 Jun 2017

    Activity: Visiting an external institutionAcademic visit to other institution

  2. Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh

    Poczai, P. (Visiting researcher)
    1 Jun 201519 Jun 2015

    Activity: Visiting an external institutionAcademic visit to other institution

  3. Revolutionizing Next-Generation Sequencing: Tools and Technologies

    Poczai, P. (Attendee)
    15 Jan 201516 Jan 2015

    Activity: Participating in or organising an eventOrganisation and participation in conferences, workshops, courses, seminars

  4. Acta Biologica Szegediensis (Journal)

    Poczai, P. (Member of editorial board)

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditor of research journal

  5. Diversity and molecular phylogeny of amphibians of Bangladesh: an unrecognized biodiversity hotspot?

    Poczai, P. (Member of thesis committee / follow-up group)
    2014 → …

    Activity: ExaminationMember of doctoral thesis committee / follow-up group

  6. Frontiers in Genetics (Journal)

    Poczai, P. (Reviewer)

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workPeer review of manuscripts

  7. Molecules (Journal)

    Poczai, P. (Reviewer)

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workPeer review of manuscripts

  8. Aquatic Botany (Journal)

    Poczai, P. (Reviewer)

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workPeer review of manuscripts

View all (85) »

Highlighted projects

  1. SOLPLAST: Plastid genome evolution in Solanaceae

    Poczai, P., Hyvönen, J., Amiryousefi, A., Aubriot, X. & Sablok, G.


    Project: Research project_Research

  2. AMB: The phylogeny of ragweeds (genus Ambrosia, Asteraceae)

    Poczai, P., Hyvönen, J., Amiryousefi, A. & Sablok, G.


    Project: Research project_Research

  3. AngioPlast: Plastid genome evolution of angiosperms

    Poczai, P., Hyvönen, J., Amiryousefi, A. & Sablok, G.


    Project: Research project_Research

  4. Solanum in Europe: phylogeny and genetic diversity

    Poczai, P. & Hyvönen, J.


    Project: Research project

View all (4) »


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