Background: Long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) play important roles in a wide range of biological processes in mammals and plants. However, the systematic examination of lncRNAs in plants lags behind that in mammals. Recently, lncRNAs have been identified in Arabidopsis and wheat; however, no systematic screening of potential lncRNAs has been reported for the rice genome.
Results: In this study, we perform whole transcriptome strand-specific RNA sequencing (ssRNA-seq) of samples from rice anthers, pistils, and seeds 5 days after pollination and from shoots 14 days after germination. Using these data, together with 40 available rice RNA-seq datasets, we systematically analyze rice lncRNAs and definitively identify lncRNAs that are involved in the reproductive process. The results show that rice lncRNAs have some different characteristics compared to those of Arabidopsis and mammals and are expressed in a highly tissue-specific or stage-specific manner. We further verify the functions of a set of lncRNAs that are preferentially expressed in reproductive stages and identify several lncRNAs as competing endogenous RNAs (ceRNAs), which sequester miR160 or miR164 in a type of target mimicry. More importantly, one lncRNA, XLOC_057324, is demonstrated to play a role in panicle development and fertility. We also develop a source of rice lncRNA-associated insertional mutants.
Conclusions: Genome-wide screening and functional analysis enabled the identification of a set of lncRNAs that are involved in the sexual reproduction of rice. The results also provide a source of lncRNAs and associated insertional mutants in rice.