A systems biology approach identifies new regulators of poplar root development under low nitrogen.

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science; Center for Data Sciences


In Populus, low nitrogen (LN) elicits rapid and vigorous lateral root (LR) proliferation, which is closely mirrored by corresponding transcriptomic changes. Using transcriptomic data, we built a genetic network encompassing a large proportion of the differentially regulated transcriptome. The network is organized in a hierarchical fashion, centered on 11 genes. Transgenic manipulations of only three of the 11 genes had a strong impact on root development under LN. These three genes encoded an F-box protein similar to Hawaiian Skirt (PtaHWS) and two transcription factors (PtaRAP2.11 and PtaNAC1). Up- and downregulation of the three genes caused increased and decreased root proliferation under LN conditions, respectively. The transgenic manipulations had a strong positive effect on growth under greenhouse conditions including increased shoot and root biomass. The three genes appeared to encompass a putative yet-unknown mechanism that underlies root development under LN. Specifically, the genes are predominantly expressed in roots and have a similar temporal response to LN. More importantly, transgenic manipulation for each of the three genes had a highly significant impact on the expression of the other two. The transgenic manipulations appear to also affect the expression of the regulatory miRNA (PtamiRNA164e) of one of the transcription factors (PtaNAC1), albeit in an opposite fashion. Consistent with a putative function of PtaHWS in proteasome degradation, treatment with proteasome inhibitor reversed the expression changes in the transgenic plants. The insights from this study will allow genetic modifications of root architecture for more efficient and dynamic nitrogen foraging in biofuel crops like poplar.

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The Plant journal : for cell and molecular biology