Divergent functions of orthologous NAC transcription factors in wheat and rice.

The wheat GPC-B1 gene located on chromosome 6B is an early regulator of senescence and affects remobilization of protein and minerals to the grain. GPC-B1 is a NAC transcription factor and has a paralogous copy on chromosome 2B in wheat, GPC-B2. The closest rice homolog to both wheat GPC genes is Os07g37920 which is located on rice chromosome 7 and is colinear with GPC-B2. Since rice is a diploid species with a sequenced genome, we initiated the study of Os07g37920 to develop a simpler model to study senescence and mineral remobilization in cereals. We developed eleven independent RNA interference transgenic rice lines (Os07g37920-RNAi) and 10 over-expressing transgenic lines (Os07g37920-OE), but none of them showed differences in senescence. Transgenic Os07g37920-RNAi rice plants had reduced proportions of viable pollen grains and were male-sterile, but were able to produce seeds by cross pollination. Analysis of the flower morphology of the transgenic rice plants showed that anthers failed to dehisce. Transgenic Os07g37920-OE lines showed no sterility or anther dehiscence problems. Os07g37920 transcript levels were higher in stamens compared to leaves and significantly reduced in the transgenic Os07g37920-RNAi plants. Wheat GPC genes showed the opposite transcription profile (higher transcript levels in leaves than in flowers) and plants carrying knock-out mutations of all GPC-1 and GPC-2 genes exhibited delayed senescence but normal anther dehiscence and fertility. These results indicate a functional divergence of the homologous wheat and rice NAC genes and suggest the need for separate studies of the function and targets of these transcription factors in wheat and rice.