Long intergenic non-coding RNAs (lincRNAs) have been demonstrated to be vital regulators of diverse biological processes in both animals and plants. While many lincRNAs have been identified in cotton, we still know little about the repositories and conservativeness of lincRNAs in different cotton species or about their role in responding to biotic stresses. Here, by using publicly available RNA-seq datasets from diverse sources, including experiments of Verticillium dahliae (Vd) infection, we identified 24,425 and 17,713 lincRNAs, respectively, in Gossypium hirsutum (Ghr) and G. barbadense (Gba), the two cultivated allotetraploid cotton species, and 6933 and 5911 lincRNAs, respectively, in G. arboreum (Gar) and G. raimondii (Gra), the two extant diploid progenitors of the allotetraploid cotton. While closely related subgenomes, such as Ghr_At and Gba_At, tend to have more conserved lincRNAs, most lincRNAs are species-specific. The majority of the synthetic and transcribed lincRNAs (78.2%) have a one-to-one orthologous relationship between different (sub)genomes, although a few of them (0.7%) are retained in all (sub)genomes of the four species. The Vd responsiveness of lincRNAs seems to be positively associated with their conservation level. The major functionalities of the Vd-responsive lincRNAs seem to be largely conserved amongst Gra, Ghr, and Gba. Many Vd-responsive Ghr-lincRNAs overlap with Vd-responsive QTL, and several lincRNAs were predicted to be endogenous target mimicries of miR482/2118, with a pair being highly conserved between Ghr and Gba. On top of the confirmation of the feature characteristics of the lincRNAs previously reported in cotton and other species, our study provided new insights into the conservativeness and divergence of lincRNAs during cotton evolution and into the relationship between the conservativeness and Vd responsiveness of lincRNAs. The study also identified candidate lincRNAs with a potential role in disease response for functional characterization.
Keywords: Verticillium dahliae; conservation; cotton; evolution; long intergenic non-coding RNA.