Background: Blueberries are a rich source of antioxidants and other beneficial compounds that can protect against disease. Identifying genes involved in synthesis of bioactive compounds could enable the breeding of berry varieties with enhanced health benefits.
Results: Toward this end, we annotated a previously sequenced draft blueberry genome assembly using RNA-Seq data from five stages of berry fruit development and ripening. Genome-guided assembly of RNA-Seq read alignments combined with output from ab initio gene finders produced around 60,000 gene models, of which more than half were similar to proteins from other species, typically the grape Vitis vinifera. Comparison of gene models to the PlantCyc database of metabolic pathway enzymes identified candidate genes involved in synthesis of bioactive compounds, including bixin, an apocarotenoid with potential disease-fighting properties, and defense-related cyanogenic glycosides, which are toxic. Cyanogenic glycoside (CG) biosynthetic enzymes were highly expressed in green fruit, and a candidate CG detoxification enzyme was up-regulated during fruit ripening. Candidate genes for ethylene, anthocyanin, and 400 other biosynthetic pathways were also identified. Homology-based annotation using Blast2GO and InterPro assigned Gene Ontology terms to around 15,000 genes. RNA-Seq expression profiling showed that blueberry growth, maturation, and ripening involve dynamic gene expression changes, including coordinated up- and down-regulation of metabolic pathway enzymes and transcriptional regulators. Analysis of RNA-seq alignments identified developmentally regulated alternative splicing, promoter use, and 3' end formation.
Conclusions: We report genome sequence, gene models, functional annotations, and RNA-Seq expression data that provide an important new resource enabling high throughput studies in blueberry.
Keywords: Alternative splicing; Blueberry; Fruit ripening; Genome; Metabolic pathways; RNA-Seq; Transcriptome.