Background: Individual plants adapt to their immediate environment using a combination of biochemical, morphological and life cycle strategies. Because woody plants are long-lived perennials, they cannot rely on annual life cycle strategies alone to survive abiotic stresses. In this study we used suppression subtractive hybridization to identify genes both up- and down-regulated in roots during water deficit treatment and recovery. In addition we followed the expression of select genes in the roots, leaves, bark and xylem of 'Royal Gala' apple subjected to a simulated drought and subsequent recovery.
Results: In agreement with studies from both herbaceous and woody plants, a number of common drought-responsive genes were identified, as well as a few not previously reported. Three genes were selected for more in depth analysis: a high affinity nitrate transporter (MdNRT2.4), a mitochondrial outer membrane translocase (MdTOM7.1), and a gene encoding an NPR1 homolog (MpNPR1-2). Quantitative expression of these genes in apple roots, bark and leaves was consistent with their roles in nutrition and defense.
Conclusions: Additional genes from apple roots responding to drought were identified using suppression subtraction hybridization compared to a previous EST analysis from the same organ. Genes up- and down-regulated during drought recovery in roots were also identified. Elevated levels of a high affinity nitrate transporter were found in roots suggesting that nitrogen uptake shifted from low affinity transport due to the predicted reduction in nitrate concentration in drought-treated roots. Suppression of a NPR1 gene in leaves of drought-treated apple trees may explain in part the increased disease susceptibility of trees subjected to dehydrative conditions.