Virus-induced gene silencing of Arabidopsis thaliana gene homologues in wheat identifies genes conferring improved drought tolerance

J Exp Bot. 2013 Mar;64(5):1381-92. doi: 10.1093/jxb/ert003. Epub 2013 Jan 30.


In a non-model staple crop like wheat (Triticum aestivumI L.), functional validation of potential drought stress responsive genes identified in Arabidopsis could provide gene targets for breeding. Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) of genes of interest can overcome the inherent problems of polyploidy and limited transformation potential that hamper functional validation studies in wheat. In this study, three potential candidate genes shown to be involved in abiotic stress response pathways in Arabidopsis thaliana were selected for VIGS experiments in wheat. These include Era1 (enhanced response to abscisic acid), Cyp707a (ABA 8'-hydroxylase), and Sal1 (inositol polyphosphate 1-phosphatase). Gene homologues for these three genes were identified in wheat and cloned in the viral vector barley stripe mosaic virus (BSMV) in the antisense direction, followed by rub inoculation of BSMV viral RNA transcripts onto wheat plants. Quantitative real-time PCR showed that VIGS-treated wheat plants had significant reductions in target gene transcripts. When VIGS-treated plants generated for Era1 and Sal1 were subjected to limiting water conditions, they showed increased relative water content, improved water use efficiency, reduced gas exchange, and better vigour compared to water-stressed control plants inoculated with RNA from the empty viral vector (BSMV0). In comparison, the Cyp707a-silenced plants showed no improvement over BSMV0-inoculated plants under limited water condition. These results indicate that Era1 and Sal1 play important roles in conferring drought tolerance in wheat. Other traits affected by Era1 silencing were also studied. Delayed seed germination in Era1-silenced plants suggests this gene may be a useful target for developing resistance to pre-harvest sprouting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics*
  • Arabidopsis / genetics*
  • Dehydration
  • Droughts*
  • Gases / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Gene Silencing*
  • Genes, Plant / genetics
  • Germination
  • Mosaic Viruses / physiology*
  • Phenotype
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Plant Stomata / physiology
  • Plants, Genetically Modified
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Seeds / genetics
  • Seeds / growth & development
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid
  • Triticum / genetics*
  • Triticum / microbiology
  • Triticum / physiology
  • Triticum / virology*


  • Gases
  • Plant Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger