Regulation of gene expression in roots of the pH-sensitive Vaccinium corymbosum and the pH-tolerant Vaccinium arboreum in response to near neutral pH stress using RNA-Seq

BMC Genomics. 2017 Aug 7;18(1):580. doi: 10.1186/s12864-017-3967-0.


Background: Blueberries are one of the few horticultural crops adapted to grow in acidic soils. Neutral to basic soil pH is detrimental to all commonly cultivated blueberry species, including Vaccinium corymbosum (VC). In contrast, the wild species V. arboreum (VA) is able to tolerate a wider range of soil pH. To assess the molecular mechanisms involved in near neutral pH stress response, plants from pH-sensitive VC (tetraploid) and pH-tolerant VA (diploid) were grown at near neutral pH 6.5 and at the preferred pH of 4.5.

Results: Transcriptome sequencing of root RNA was performed for 4 biological replications per species x pH level interaction, for a total of 16 samples. Reads were mapped to the reference genome from diploid V. corymbosum, transforming ~55% of the reads to gene counts. A quasi-likelihood F test identified differential expression due to pH stress in 337 and 4867 genes in VA and VC, respectively. Both species shared regulation of genes involved in nutrient homeostasis and cell wall metabolism. VA and VC exhibited differential regulation of signaling pathways related to abiotic/biotic stress, cellulose and lignin biosynthesis, and nutrient uptake.

Conclusions: The specific responses in VA likely facilitate tolerance to higher soil pH. In contrast, response in VC, despite affecting a greater number of genes, is not effective overcoming the stress induced by pH. Further inspection of those genes with differential expression that are specific in VA may provide insight on the mechanisms towards tolerance.

Keywords: Abiotic stress; Blueberry; Differential expression; RNA-Seq; Vaccinium; pH.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics
  • Blueberry Plants / genetics*
  • Blueberry Plants / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Molecular Sequence Annotation
  • Phenotype
  • Plant Roots / genetics*
  • RNA, Plant / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA*
  • Soil / chemistry
  • Stress, Physiological / genetics*


  • RNA, Plant
  • Soil