Background: Sorghum is an important cereal crop, which requires large quantities of nitrogen fertilizer for achieving commercial yields. Identification of the genes responsible for low-N tolerance in sorghum will facilitate understanding of the molecular mechanisms of low-N tolerance, and also facilitate the genetic improvement of sorghum through marker-assisted selection or gene transformation. In this study we compared the transcriptomes of root tissues from seven sorghum genotypes having differential response to low-N stress.
Results: Illumina RNA-sequencing detected several common differentially expressed genes (DEGs) between four low-N tolerant sorghum genotypes (San Chi San, China17, KS78 and high-NUE bulk) and three sensitive genotypes (CK60, BTx623 and low-NUE bulk). In sensitive genotypes, N-stress increased the abundance of DEG transcripts associated with stress responses including oxidative stress and stimuli were abundant. The tolerant genotypes adapt to N deficiency by producing greater root mass for efficient uptake of nutrients. In tolerant genotypes, higher abundance of transcripts related to high affinity nitrate transporters (NRT2.2, NRT2.3, NRT2.5, and NRT2.6) and lysine histidine transporter 1 (LHT1), may suggest an improved uptake efficiency of inorganic and organic forms of nitrogen. Higher abundance of SEC14 cytosolic factor family protein transcript in tolerant genotypes could lead to increased membrane stability and tolerance to N-stress.
Conclusions: Comparison of transcriptomes between N-stress tolerant and sensitive genotypes revealed several common DEG transcripts. Some of these DEGs were evaluated further by comparing the transcriptomes of genotypes grown under full N. The DEG transcripts showed higher expression in tolerant genotypes could be used for transgenic over-expression in sensitive genotypes of sorghum and related crops for increased tolerance to N-stress, which results in increased nitrogen use efficiency for sustainable agriculture.