Defensin-like peptides in wheat analyzed by whole-transcriptome sequencing: a focus on structural diversity and role in induced resistance

PeerJ. 2019 Jan 8;7:e6125. doi: 10.7717/peerj.6125. eCollection 2019.


Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are the main components of the plant innate immune system. Defensins represent the most important AMP family involved in defense and non-defense functions. In this work, global RNA sequencing and de novo transcriptome assembly were performed to explore the diversity of defensin-like (DEFL) genes in the wheat Triticum kiharae and to study their role in induced resistance (IR) mediated by the elicitor metabolites of a non-pathogenic strain FS-94 of Fusarium sambucinum. Using a combination of two pipelines for DEFL mining in transcriptome data sets, as many as 143 DEFL genes were identified in T. kiharae, the vast majority of them represent novel genes. According to the number of cysteine residues and the cysteine motif, wheat DEFLs were classified into ten groups. Classical defensins with a characteristic 8-Cys motif assigned to group 1 DEFLs represent the most abundant group comprising 52 family members. DEFLs with a characteristic 4-Cys motif CX{3,5}CX{8,17}CX{4,6}C named group 4 DEFLs previously found only in legumes were discovered in wheat. Within DEFL groups, subgroups of similar sequences originated by duplication events were isolated. Variation among DEFLs within subgroups is due to amino acid substitutions and insertions/deletions of amino acid sequences. To identify IR-related DEFL genes, transcriptional changes in DEFL gene expression during elicitor-mediated IR were monitored. Transcriptional diversity of DEFL genes in wheat seedlings in response to the fungus Fusarium oxysporum, FS-94 elicitors, and the combination of both (elicitors + fungus) was demonstrated, with specific sets of up- and down-regulated DEFL genes. DEFL expression profiling allowed us to gain insight into the mode of action of the elicitors from F. sambucinum. We discovered that the elicitors up-regulated a set of 24 DEFL genes. After challenge inoculation with F. oxysporum, another set of 22 DEFLs showed enhanced expression in IR-displaying seedlings. These DEFLs, in concert with other defense molecules, are suggested to determine enhanced resistance of elicitor-pretreated wheat seedlings. In addition to providing a better understanding of the mode of action of the elicitors from FS-94 in controlling diseases, up-regulated IR-specific DEFL genes represent novel candidates for genetic transformation of plants and development of pathogen-resistant crops.

Keywords: Antimicrobial peptides; Defensins; Elicitor; Fusarium spp.; Induced resistance; Next-generation sequencing; Transcriptome; Triticum kiharae.

Grant support

This work was supported by the Russian Science Foundation (grant no 16-16-00032) for Tatyana I. Odintsova, Marina P. Slezina, Ekaterina A. Istomina, and Tatyana V. Korostyleva. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.