Conserved, divergent and heterochronic gene expression during Brachypodium and Arabidopsis embryo development

Plant Reprod. 2021 May 5. doi: 10.1007/s00497-021-00413-4. Online ahead of print.


Developmental and transcriptomic analysis of Brachypodium embryogenesis and comparison with Arabidopsis identifies conserved and divergent phases of embryogenesis and reveals widespread heterochrony of developmental gene expression. Embryogenesis, transforming the zygote into the mature embryo, represents a fundamental process for all flowering plants. Current knowledge of cell specification and differentiation during plant embryogenesis is largely based on studies of the dicot model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. However, the major crops are monocots and the transcriptional programs associated with the differentiation processes during embryogenesis in this clade were largely unknown. Here, we combined analysis of cell division patterns with development of a temporal transcriptomic resource during embryogenesis of the monocot model plant Brachypodium distachyon. We found that early divisions of the Brachypodium embryo were highly regular, while later stages were marked by less stereotypic patterns. Comparative transcriptomic analysis between Brachypodium and Arabidopsis revealed that early and late embryogenesis shared a common transcriptional program, whereas mid-embryogenesis was divergent between species. Analysis of orthology groups revealed widespread heterochronic expression of potential developmental regulators between the species. Interestingly, Brachypodium genes tend to be expressed at earlier stages than Arabidopsis counterparts, which suggests that embryo patterning may occur early during Brachypodium embryogenesis. Detailed investigation of auxin-related genes shows that the capacity to synthesize, transport and respond to auxin is established early in the embryo. However, while early PIN1 polarity could be confirmed, it is unclear if an active response is mounted. This study presents a resource for studying Brachypodium and grass embryogenesis and shows that divergent angiosperms share a conserved genetic program that is marked by heterochronic gene expression.

Keywords: Brachypodium distachyon; Embryogenesis; RNA-seq.