Plant cell walls are complex composites largely consisting of carbohydrate-based polymers, and are generally divided into primary and secondary walls based on content and characteristics. Cellulose microfibrils constitute a major component of both primary and secondary cell walls and are synthesized at the plasma membrane by cellulose synthase (CESA) complexes. Several studies in Arabidopsis have demonstrated the power of co-expression analyses to identify new genes associated with secondary wall cellulose biosynthesis. However, across-species comparative co-expression analyses remain largely unexplored. Here, we compared co-expressed gene vicinity networks of primary and secondary wall CESAsin Arabidopsis, barley, rice, poplar, soybean, Medicago, and wheat, and identified gene families that are consistently co-regulated with cellulose biosynthesis. In addition to the expected polysaccharide acting enzymes, we also found many gene families associated with cytoskeleton, signaling, transcriptional regulation, oxidation, and protein degradation. Based on these analyses, we selected and biochemically analyzed T-DNA insertion lines corresponding to approximately twenty genes from gene families that re-occur in the co-expressed gene vicinity networks of secondary wall CESAs across the seven species. We developed a statistical pipeline using principal component analysis and optimal clustering based on silhouette width to analyze sugar profiles. One of the mutants, corresponding to a pinoresinol reductase gene, displayed disturbed xylem morphology and held lower levels of lignin molecules. We propose that this type of large-scale co-expression approach, coupled with statistical analysis of the cell wall contents, will be useful to facilitate rapid knowledge transfer across plant species.
Keywords: Arabidopsis; cellulose; comparative co-expression analysis; secondary cell wall.