Background: Receptor-like kinases are a prominent class of surface receptors that regulate many aspects of the plant life cycle. Despite recent advances the function of most receptor-like kinases remains elusive. Therefore, it is paramount to investigate these receptors. The task is complicated by the fact that receptor-like kinases belong to a large monophyletic family with many sub-clades. In general, functional analysis of gene family members by reverse genetics is often obscured by several issues, such as redundancy, subtle or difficult to detect phenotypes in mutants, or by decision problems regarding suitable biological and biochemical assays. Therefore, in many cases additional strategies have to be employed to allow inference of hypotheses regarding gene function.
Results: We approached the function of genes encoding the nine-member STRUBBELIG-RECEPTOR FAMILY (SRF) class of putative leucine-rich repeat receptor-like kinases. Sequence comparisons show overall conservation but also divergence in predicted functional domains among SRF proteins. Interestingly, SRF1 undergoes differential splicing. As a result, SRF1 is predicted to exist in a standard receptor configuration and in a membrane-anchored receptor-like version that lacks most of the intracellular domain. Furthermore, SRF1 is characterised by a high degree of polymorphism between the Ler and Col accessions. Two independent T-DNA-based srf4 mutants showed smaller leaves while 35S::SRF4 plants displayed enlarged leaves. This is in addition to the strubbelig phenotype which has been described before. Additional single and several key double mutant combinations did not reveal obvious mutant phenotypes. Ectopic expression of several SRF genes, using the 35S promoter, resulted in male sterility. To gain possible insights into SRF gene function we employed a computational analysis of publicly available microarray data. We performed global expression profiling, coexpression analysis, and an analysis of the enrichment of gene ontology terms among coexpressed genes. The bioinformatic analyses raise the possibility that some SRF genes affect different aspects of cell wall biology. The results also indicate that redundancy is a minor aspect of the SRF family.
Conclusion: The results provide evidence that SRF4 is a positive regulator of leaf size. In addition, they suggest that the SRF family is characterised by functional diversity and that some SRF genes may function in cell wall biology. They also indicate that complementing reverse genetics with bioinformatical data mining of genome-wide expression data aids in inferring hypotheses on possible functions for members of a gene family.