Allele specific expression analysis identifies regulatory variation associated with stress-related genes in the Mexican highland maize landrace Palomero Toluqueño
Background. Gene regulatory variation has been proposed to play an important role in the adaptation of plants to environmental stress. In the central highlands of Mexico, farmer selection has generated a unique group of maize landraces adapted the challenges of the highland niche. In this study, gene expression in Mexican highland maize and a reference maize breeding line were compared to identify evidence of regulatory variation in stress-related genes. It was hypothesised that local
... hat local adaptation in Mexican highland maize would be associated with a transcriptional signature observable even under benign conditions. Methods. Allele specific expression analysis was performed using the seedling-leaf transcriptome of an F1 individual generated from the cross between the highland adapted Mexican landrace Palomero Toluqueño and the reference line B73, grown under benign conditions. Results were compared with a published dataset describing the transcriptional response of B73 seedlings to cold, heat, salt and UV treatments. Results. A total of 2386 genes were identified to show allele specific expression. Of these, 277 showed an expression difference between Palomero Toluqueño and B73 alleles that mirrored the response of B73 cold, heat, salt and/or UV treatments, and, as such, were considered to display a constitutive stress response. Constitutive stress response candidates included genes associated with plant hormone signaling and a number of transcription factors. Construction of a gene co-expression network revealed further signaling and stress-related genes to be among the potential targets of the transcription factors candidates. Discussion. Constitutive activation of responses may represent the best strategy when stresses are severe but predictable. Expression differences observed here between Palomero Toluqueño and B73 alleles indicate the presence of cis-acting regulatory variation linked to stress-related genes in Palomero Toluqueño. Considered alongside gene annotation and population data, allele specific expression analysis of plants grown under benign conditions provides an attractive strategy to identify functional variation potentially linked to local adaptation.