Ubiquitin-related genes are differentially expressed in isogenic lines contrasting for pericarp cell size and grain weight in hexaploid wheat

gold Gold open access

There is an urgent need to increase global crop production. Identifying and combining genes controlling indidviual yield components, such as grain weight, holds the potential to enhance crop yields. Transcriptomics is a powerful tool to gain insights into the complex gene regulatory networks that underlie such traits, but relies on the availability of a high-quality reference sequence and accurate gene models. Previously, we identified a grain weight QTL on wheat chromosome 5A (5A QTL) which acts during early grain development to increase grain length through cell expansion in the pericarp. In this study, we performed RNA-sequencing on near isogenic lines (NILs) segregating for the 5A QTL and used the latest gene models to identify differentially expressed (DE) genes and pathways that potentially influence pericarp cell size and grain weight in wheat. We sampled grains at four and eight days post anthesis and found genes associated with metabolism, biosynthesis, proteoloysis and defence response to be upregulated during this stage of grain development in both NILs. We identified a specific set of 112 transcripts DE between 5A NILs at either time point, including seven potential candidates for the causal gene underlying the 5A QTL. The 112 DE transcripts had functional annotations including non-coding RNA, transpon-associated, cell-cycle control, and ubiquitin-related processes. Many of the wheat genes identified belong to families that have been previously associated with seed/grain development in other species. However, few of these wheat genes are the direct orthologs and none have been previously characterised in wheat. Notably, we identified DE transcripts at almost all steps of the pathway associated with ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation. In the promoters of a subset of DE transcripts we identified enrichment of binding sites associated with C2H2, MYB/SANT, YABBY, AT-HOOK and Trihelix transcription factor families. In this study, we identified DE transcripts with a diverse range of predicted biological functions, reflecting the complex nature of the pathways that control early grain development. Further functional characterisation of these candidates and how they interact could provide new insights into the control of grain size in cereals, ultimately improving crop yield.