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Using time-series transcriptomic data from poplar roots undergoing polyethylene glycol (PEG)-induced drought stress, we built a genetic network model of the involved putative molecular responses. We found that the network resembled a hierarchical structure. The highest hierarchical level in this structure is occupied by 9 genes, which we called superhubs because they were primarily connected to 18 hub genes, which are then connected to 2,934 terminal genes. We were only able to regenerate transgenic plants overexpressing two of the superhubs, suggesting that the majority of the superhubs might interfere with the regeneration process and did not allow recovery of transgenic plants. The two superhubs encode proteins with closest homology to JAZ3 and RAP2.6 genes of Arabidopsis and were consequently named PtaJAZ3 and PtaRAP2.6. PtaJAZ3 and PtaRAP2.6 overexpressing transgenic lines showed a significant increase in both root elongation and lateral root proliferation and these responses were specific for the drought stress conditions and were highly correlated with the levels of overexpression of the transgenes. Several lines of evidence suggest of regulatory interactions between the two superhubs. Both superhubs were significantly induced by methyl jasmonate (MeJA). Because jasmonate signaling involves ubiquitin-mediated proteasome degradation, treatment with proteasome inhibitor abolished the MeJA induction for both genes. PtaRAP2.6 was upregulated in PtaJAZ3 transgenics but PtaJAZ3 expression was not affected in the PtaRAP2.6 overexpressors. The discovery of the two genes and further future insights into the associated mechanisms can lead to improved understanding and novel approaches to regulate root architecture in relation to drought stress.

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