Comparative phenotypic and transcriptomic analyses unravel conserved and distinct mechanisms underlying shade avoidance syndrome in Brassicaceae vegetables

BMC Genomics. 2021 Oct 25;22(1):760. doi: 10.1186/s12864-021-08076-1.


Background: Plants grown under shade are exposed to low red/far-red ratio, thereby triggering an array of altered phenotypes called shade avoidance syndrome (SAS). Shade negatively influences plant growth, leading to a reduction in agricultural productivity. Understanding of SAS is crucial for sustainable agricultural practices, especially for high-density indoor farming. Brassicaceae vegetables are widely consumed around the world and are commonly cultivated in indoor farms. However, our understanding of SAS in Brassicaceae vegetables and their genome-wide transcriptional regulatory networks are still largely unexplored.

Results: Shade induced common signs of SAS, including hypocotyl elongation and reduced carotenoids/anthocyanins biosynthesis, in two different Brassicaceae species: Brassica rapa (Choy Sum and Pak Choy) and Brassica oleracea (Kai Lan). Phenotype-assisted transcriptome analysis identified a set of genes induced by shade in these species, many of which were related to auxin biosynthesis and signaling [e.g. YUCCA8 (YUC8), YUC9, and INDOLE-3-ACETIC ACID INDUCIBLE (IAAs)] and other phytohormones signaling pathways including brassinosteroids and ethylene. The genes functioning in plant defense (e.g. MYB29 and JASMONATE-ZIM-DOMAIN PROTEIN 9) as well as in biosynthesis of anthocyanins and glucosinolates were repressed upon shade. Besides, each species also exhibited distinct SAS phenotypes. Shade strongly reduced primary roots and elongated petioles of B. oleracea, Kai Lan. However, these SAS phenotypes were not clearly recognized in B. rapa, Choy Sum and Pak Choy. Some auxin signaling genes (e.g. AUXIN RESPONSE FACTOR 19, IAA10, and IAA20) were specifically induced in B. oleracea, while homologs in B. rapa were not up-regulated under shade. Contrastingly, shade-exposed B. rapa vegetables triggered the ethylene signaling pathway earlier than B. oleracea, Kai Lan. Interestingly, shade induced the transcript levels of LONG HYPOCOTYL IN FAR-RED 1 (HFR1) homolog in only Pak Choy as B. rapa. As HFR1 is a key negative regulator of SAS in Arabidopsis, our finding suggests that Pak Choy HFR1 homolog may also function in conferring higher shade tolerance in this variety.

Conclusions: Our study shows that two Brassicaceae species not only share a conserved SAS mechanism but also exhibit distinct responses to shade, which will provide comprehensive information to develop new shade-tolerant cultivars that are suitable for high-density indoor farms.

Keywords: Auxin; Brassica oleracea; Brassica rapa; Phytohormones; RNA-seq; de novo transcriptome assembly.

MeSH terms

  • Anthocyanins
  • Arabidopsis Proteins* / genetics
  • Brassicaceae* / genetics
  • Brassicaceae* / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Phenotype
  • Transcriptome
  • Vegetables


  • Anthocyanins
  • Arabidopsis Proteins