Background: NAC proteins (NAM (No apical meristem), ATAF (Arabidopsis transcription activation factor) and CUC (cup-shaped cotyledon)) are plant-specific transcription factors reported to be involved in regulating growth, development and stress responses. Salinity responsive transcriptome profiling in a set of contrasting finger millet genotypes through RNA-sequencing resulted in the identification of a NAC homolog (EcNAC 67) exhibiting differential salinity responsive expression pattern.
Methods: Full length cDNA of EcNAC67 was isolated, characterized and validated for its role in abiotic stress tolerance through agrobacterium mediated genetic transformation in a rice cultivar ASD16.
Results: Bioinformatics analysis of putative NAC transcription factor (TF) isolated from a salinity tolerant finger millet showed its genetic relatedness to NAC67 family TFs in related cereals. Putative transgenic lines of rice over-expressing EcNAC67 were generated through Agrobacterium mediated transformation and presence/integration of transgene was confirmed through PCR and southern hybridization analysis. Transgenic rice plants harboring EcNAC67 showed enhanced tolerance against drought and salinity under greenhouse conditions. Transgenic rice plants were found to possess higher root and shoot biomass during stress and showed better revival ability upon relief from salinity stress. Upon drought stress, transgenic lines were found to maintain higher relative water content and lesser reduction in grain yield when compared to non-transgenic ASD16 plants. Drought induced spikelet sterility was found to be much lower in the transgenic lines than the non-transgenic ASD16.
Conclusion: Results revealed the significant role of EcNAC67 in modulating responses against dehydration stress in rice. No detectable abnormalities in the phenotypic traits were observed in the transgenic plants under normal growth conditions. Results indicate that EcNAC67 can be used as a novel source for engineering tolerance against drought and salinity stress in rice and other crop plants.
Keywords: Abiotic stress; Drought; Genetic engineering; Salinity; Transcription factor.