Copy number variation of TdDof controls solid-stemmed architecture in wheat.

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Stem solidness is an important agronomic trait of durum (Triticum turgidum L. var. durum) and bread (Triticum aestivum L.) wheat that provides resistance to the wheat stem sawfly. This dominant trait is conferred by the SSt1 locus on chromosome 3B. However, the molecular identity and mechanisms underpinning stem solidness have not been identified. Here, we demonstrate that copy number variation of TdDof, a gene encoding a putative DNA binding with one finger protein, controls the stem solidness trait in wheat. Using map-based cloning, we localized TdDof to within a physical interval of 2.1 Mb inside the SSt1 locus. Molecular analysis revealed that hollow-stemmed wheat cultivars such as Kronos carry a single copy of TdDof, whereas solid-stemmed cultivars such as CDC Fortitude carry multiple identical copies of the gene. Deletion of all TdDof copies from CDC Fortitude resulted in the loss of stem solidness, whereas the transgenic overexpression of TdDof restored stem solidness in the TdDof deletion mutant pithless1 and conferred stem solidness in Kronos. In solid-stemmed cultivars, increased TdDof expression was correlated with the down-regulation of genes whose orthologs have been implicated in programmed cell death (PCD) in other species. Anatomical and histochemical analyses revealed that hollow-stemmed lines had stronger PCD-associated signals in the pith cells compared to solid-stemmed lines, which suggests copy number-dependent expression of TdDof could be directly or indirectly involved in the negative regulation of PCD. These findings provide opportunities to manipulate stem development in wheat and other monocots for agricultural or industrial purposes.