Background: Chickpea (C. arietinum L.) ranks third in food legume crop production in the world. However, drought poses a serious threat to chickpea production, and development of drought-resistant varieties is a necessity. Unfortunately, cultivated chickpea has a high morphological but narrow genetic diversity, and understanding the genetic processes of this plant is hindered by the fact that the chickpea genome has not yet been sequenced and its EST resources are limited. In this study, two chickpea varieties having contrasting levels of drought-tolerance were analyzed for differences in transcript profiling during drought stress treatment by withdrawal of irrigation at different time points. Transcript profiles of ESTs derived from subtractive cDNA libraries constructed with RNA from whole seedlings of both varieties were analyzed at different stages of stress treatment.
Results: A series of comparisons of transcript abundance between two varieties at different time points were made. 319 unique ESTs available from different libraries were categorized into eleven clusters according to their comparative expression profiles. Expression analysis revealed that 70% of the ESTs were more than two fold abundant in the tolerant cultivar at any point of the stress treatment of which expression of 33% ESTs were more than two fold high even under the control condition. 53 ESTs that displayed very high fold relative expression in the tolerant variety were screened for further analysis. These ESTs were clustered in four groups according to their expression patterns.
Conclusions: Annotation of the highly expressed ESTs in the tolerant cultivar predicted that most of them encoded proteins involved in cellular organization, protein metabolism, signal transduction, and transcription. Results from this study may help in targeting useful genes for improving drought tolerance in chickpea.