Lathyrus sativus (grass pea) is a temperate grain legume crop with a great potential for expansion in dry areas or zones that are becoming more drought-prone. It is also recognized as a potential source of resistance to several important diseases in legumes, such as ascochyta blight. Nevertheless, the lack of detailed genomic and/or transcriptomic information hampers further exploitation of grass pea resistance-related genes in precision breeding. To elucidate the pathways differentially regulated during ascochyta-grass pea interaction and to identify resistance candidate genes, we compared the early response of the leaf gene expression profile of a resistant L. sativus genotype to Ascochyta lathyri infection with a non-inoculated control sample from the same genotype employing deepSuperSAGE. This analysis generated 14.387 UniTags of which 95.7% mapped to a reference grass pea/rust interaction transcriptome. From the total mapped UniTags, 738 were significantly differentially expressed between control and inoculated leaves. The results indicate that several gene classes acting in different phases of the plant/pathogen interaction are involved in the L. sativus response to A. lathyri infection. Most notably a clear up-regulation of defense-related genes involved in and/or regulated by the ethylene pathway was observed. There was also evidence of alterations in cell wall metabolism indicated by overexpression of cellulose synthase and lignin biosynthesis genes. This first genome-wide overview of the gene expression profile of the L. sativus response to ascochyta infection delivered a valuable set of candidate resistance genes for future use in precision breeding.
Keywords: Lathyrus sativus; SuperSAGE; ascochyta; candidate genes; gene expression; grass pea; resistance; transcriptome.