A robust method of nuclei isolation for single-cell RNA sequencing of solid tissues from the plant genus Populus

PLoS One. 2021 May 11;16(5):e0251149. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0251149. eCollection 2021.


Single-cell transcriptome analysis has been extensively applied in humans and animal models to uncover gene expression heterogeneity between the different cell types of a tissue or an organ. It demonstrated its capability to discover key regulatory elements that determine cell fate during developmental programs. Single-cell analysis requires the isolation and labeling of the messenger RNA (mRNA) derived from each cell. These challenges were primarily addressed in mammals by developing microfluidic-based approaches. For plant species whose cells contain cell walls, these approaches have generally required the generation of isolated protoplasts. Many plant tissues' secondary cell wall hinders enzymatic digestion required for individual protoplast isolation, resulting in an unequal representation of cell types in a protoplast population. This limitation is especially critical for cell types located in the inner layers of a tissue or the inner tissues of an organ. Consequently, single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) studies using microfluidic approaches in plants have mainly been restricted to Arabidopsis roots, for which well-established procedures of protoplast isolation are available. Here we present a simple alternative approach to generating high-quality protoplasts from plant tissue by characterizing the mRNA extracted from individual nuclei instead of whole cells. We developed the protocol using two different plant materials with varying cellular complexity levels and cell wall structure, Populus shoot apices, and more lignified stems. Using the 10× Genomics Chromium technology, we show that this procedure results in intact mRNA isolation and limited leakage, with a broad representation of individual cell transcriptomes.

Grant support

This work was supported by the Department of Energy Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research (www.energy.gov/science/ber/biological-and-environmental-research) with a grant (DE-SC0018247) to MK. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.