Abiotic Stress Phenotypes Are Associated with Conserved Genes Derived from Transposable Elements

Front Plant Sci. 2017 Nov 28:8:2027. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2017.02027. eCollection 2017.


Plant phenomics offers unique opportunities to accelerate our understanding of gene function and plant response to different environments, and may be particularly useful for studying previously uncharacterized genes. One important type of poorly characterized genes is those derived from transposable elements (TEs), which have departed from a mobility-driven lifestyle to attain new adaptive roles for the host (exapted TEs). We used phenomics approaches, coupled with reverse genetics, to analyze T-DNA insertion mutants of both previously reported and novel protein-coding exapted TEs in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. We show that mutations in most of these exapted TEs result in phenotypes, particularly when challenged by abiotic stress. We built statistical multi-dimensional phenotypic profiles and compared them to wild-type and known stress responsive mutant lines for each particular stress condition. We found that these exapted TEs may play roles in responses to phosphate limitation, tolerance to high salt concentration, freezing temperatures, and arsenic toxicity. These results not only experimentally validate a large set of putative functional exapted TEs recently discovered through computational analysis, but also uncover additional novel phenotypes for previously well-characterized exapted TEs in A. thaliana.

Keywords: abiotic stress; exaptation; high-throughput screen assays; molecular domestication; multiple trait analyses; phenomics; reverse genetics; transposable elements.