UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Identification of conserved drought-adaptive genes using a cross-species meta-analysis approach Shaar-Moshe, Lidor; Hübner, Sariel; Peleg, Zvi


Background: Drought is the major environmental stress threatening crop-plant productivity worldwide. Identification of new genes and metabolic pathways involved in plant adaptation to progressive drought stress at the reproductive stage is of great interest for agricultural research. Results We developed a novel Cross-Species meta-Analysis of progressive Drought stress at the reproductive stage (CSA:Drought) to identify key drought adaptive genes and mechanisms and to test their evolutionary conservation. Empirically defined filtering criteria were used to facilitate a robust integration of 17 deposited microarray experiments (148 arrays) of Arabidopsis, rice, wheat and barley. By prioritizing consistency over intensity, our approach was able to identify 225 differentially expressed genes shared across studies and taxa. Gene ontology enrichment and pathway analyses classified the shared genes into functional categories involved predominantly in metabolic processes (e.g. amino acid and carbohydrate metabolism), regulatory function (e.g. protein degradation and transcription) and response to stimulus. We further investigated drought related cis-acting elements in the shared gene promoters, and the evolutionary conservation of shared genes. The universal nature of the identified drought-adaptive genes was further validated in a fifth species, Brachypodium distachyon that was not included in the meta-analysis. qPCR analysis of 27, randomly selected, shared orthologs showed similar expression pattern as was found by the CSA:Drought.In accordance, morpho-physiological characterization of progressive drought stress, in B. distachyon, highlighted the key role of osmotic adjustment as evolutionary conserved drought-adaptive mechanism. Conclusions Our CSA:Drought strategy highlights major drought-adaptive genes and metabolic pathways that were only partially, if at all, reported in the original studies included in the meta-analysis. These genes include a group of unclassified genes that could be involved in novel drought adaptation mechanisms. The identified shared genes can provide a useful resource for subsequent research to better understand the mechanisms involved in drought adaptation across-species and can serve as a potential set of molecular biomarkers for progressive drought experiments.

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