The CarERF genes in chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) and the identification of CarERF116 as abiotic stress responsive transcription factor

Amit A Deokar, Vishwajith Kondawar, Deshika Kohli, Mohammad Aslam, Pradeep K Jain, S Mohan Karuppayil, Rajeev K Varshney, Ramamurthy Srinivasan
Functional & Integrative Genomics 2015, 15 (1): 27-46
The AP2/ERF family is one of the largest transcription factor gene families that are involved in various plant processes, especially in response to biotic and abiotic stresses. Complete genome sequences of one of the world's most important pulse crops chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.), has provided an important opportunity to identify and characterize genome-wide ERF genes. In this study, we identified 120 putative ERF genes from chickpea. The genomic organization of the chickpea ERF genes suggested that the gene family might have been expanded through the segmental duplications. The 120 member ERF family was classified into eleven distinct groups (I-X and VI-L). Transcriptional factor CarERF116, which is differentially expressed between drought tolerant and susceptible chickpea cultivar under terminal drought stress has been identified and functionally characterized. The CarERF116 encodes a putative protein of 241 amino acids and classified into group IX of ERF family. An in vitro CarERF116 protein-DNA binding assay demonstrated that CarERF116 protein specifically interacts with GCC box. We demonstrate that CarERF116 is capable of transactivation activity of and show that the functional transcriptional domain lies at the C-terminal region of the CarERF116. In transgenic Arabidopsis plants overexpressing CarERF116, significant up-regulation of several stress related genes were observed. These plants also exhibit resistance to osmotic stress and reduced sensitivity to ABA during seed germination. Based on these findings, we conclude that CarERF116 is an abiotic stress responsive gene, which plays an important role in stress tolerance. In addition, the present study leads to genome-wide identification and evolutionary analyses of chickpea ERF gene family, which will facilitate further research on this important group of genes and provides valuable resources for comparative genomics among the grain legumes.

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