Improving rice tolerance to potassium deficiency by enhancing OsHAK16p:WOX11-controlled root development

Guang Chen, Huimin Feng, Qingdi Hu, Hongye Qu, Aiqun Chen, Ling Yu, Guohua Xu
Plant Biotechnology Journal 2015, 13 (6): 833-48
Potassium (K) deficiency in plants confines root growth and decreases root-to-shoot ratio, thus limiting root K acquisition in culture medium. A WUSCHEL-related homeobox (WOX) gene, WOX11, has been reported as an integrator of auxin and cytokinin signalling that regulates root cell proliferation. Here, we report that ectopic expression of WOX11 gene driven by the promoter of OsHAK16 encoding a low-K-enhanced K transporter led to an extensive root system and adventitious roots and more effective tiller numbers in rice. The WOX11-regulated root and shoot phenotypes in the OsHAK16p:WOX11 transgenic lines were supported by K-deficiency-enhanced expression of several RR genes encoding type-A cytokinin-responsive regulators, PIN genes encoding auxin transporters and Aux/IAA genes. In comparison with WT, the transgenic lines showed increases in root biomass, root activity and K concentrations in the whole plants, and higher soluble sugar concentrations in roots particularly under low K supply condition. The improvement of sugar partitioning to the roots by the expression of OsHAK16p:WOX11 was further indicated by increasing the expression of OsSUT1 and OsSUT4 genes in leaf blades and several OsMSTs genes in roots. Expression of OsHAK16p:WOX11 in the rice grown in moderate K-deficient soil increased total K uptake by 72% and grain yield by 24%-32%. The results suggest that enlarging root growth and development by the expression of WOX11 in roots could provide a useful option for increasing K acquisition efficiency and cereal crop productivity in low K soil.

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