The Poaceae family, also known as the grasses, includes agronomically important cereal crops such as rice, maize, sorghum, and wheat. Previous comparative studies have shown that much of the gene content is shared among the grasses; however, functional conservation of orthologous genes has yet to be explored. To gain an understanding of the genome-wide patterns of evolution of gene expression across reproductive tissues, we employed a sequence-based approach to compare analogous transcriptomes in species representing three Poaceae subgroups including the Pooideae (Brachypodium distachyon), the Panicoideae (sorghum), and the Ehrhartoideae (rice). Our transcriptome analyses reveal that only a fraction of orthologous genes exhibit conserved expression patterns. A high proportion of conserved orthologs include genes that are upregulated in physiologically similar tissues such as leaves, anther, pistil, and embryo, while orthologs that are highly expressed in seeds show the most diverged expression patterns. More generally, we show that evolution of gene expression profiles and coding sequences in the grasses may be linked. Genes that are highly and broadly expressed tend to be conserved at the coding sequence level while genes with narrow expression patterns show accelerated rates of sequence evolution. We further show that orthologs in syntenic genomic blocks are more likely to share correlated expression patterns compared with non-syntenic orthologs. These findings are important for agricultural improvement because sequence information is transferred from model species, such as Brachypodium, rice, and sorghum to crop plants without sequenced genomes.
© 2012 The Authors. The Plant Journal © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.