JOURNAL ARTICLE

MicroRNA expression analysis in the cellulosic biofuel crop switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) under abiotic stress

Guiling Sun, C Neal Stewart, Peng Xiao, Baohong Zhang
PloS One 2012, 7 (3): e32017
22470418
Switchgrass has increasingly been recognized as a dedicated biofuel crop for its broad adaptation to marginal lands and high biomass. However, little is known about the basic biology and the regulatory mechanisms of gene expression in switchgrass, particularly under stress conditions. In this study, we investigated the effect of salt and drought stress on switchgrass germination, growth and the expression of small regulatory RNAs. The results indicate that salt stress had a gradual but significant negative effect on switchgrass growth and development. The germination rate was significantly decreased from 82% for control to 36% under 1% NaCl treatment. However, drought stress had little effect on the germination rate but had a significant effect on the growth of switchgrass under the severest salinity stress. Both salt and drought stresses altered the expression pattern of miRNAs in a dose-dependent manner. However, each miRNA responded to drought stress in a different pattern. Salt and drought stress changed the expression level of miRNAs mainly from 0.9-fold up-regulation to 0.7-fold down-regulation. miRNAs were less sensitive to drought treatment than salinity treatment, as evidenced by the narrow fold change in expression levels. Although the range of change in expression level of miRNAs was similar under salt and drought stress, no miRNAs displayed significant change in expression level under all tested salt conditions. Two miRNAs, miR156 and miR162, showed significantly change in expression level under high drought stress. This suggests that miR156 and miR162 may attribute to the adaption of switchgrass to drought stress and are good candidates for improving switchgrass as a biofuel crop by transgenic technology.

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