Network of transcriptome and metabolomics reveals a novel regulation of drought resistance during germination in wheat

Ann Bot. 2022 Aug 16;mcac102. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcac102. Online ahead of print.


Background and aims: The North China Plain, the highest winter-wheat-producing region of China, is seriously threatened by drought. Traditional irrigation wastes a significant amount of water during the sowing season. Therefore, it is necessary to study the drought resistance of wheat during germination to maintain agricultural ecological security. From several main cultivars in the North China Plain, we screened the drought-resistant cultivar JM47 and drought-sensitive cultivar AK58 during germination using the Polyethylene glycol (PEG) drought simulation method. An integrated analysis of the transcriptome and metabolomics was performed to understand the regulatory networks related to drought resistance in wheat germination and verify key regulatory genes.

Methods: Transcriptional and metabolic changes were investigated using statistical analyses and gene-metabolite correlation networks. Transcript and metabolite profiles were obtained through high-throughput RNA -sequencing data analysis and ultra-performance liquid chromatography quadrupole time-of-flight tandem mass spectrometry, respectively.

Key results: A total of 8083 and 2911 differentially expressed genes and 173 and 148 differential metabolites were identified in AK58 and JM47, respectively, under drought stress. According to the integrated analysis results, mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signalling was prominently enriched in JM47. A decrease in alpha-linolenic acid content was consistent with the performance of differentially expressed genes (DEGs) involved in jasmonic acid biosynthesis in the two cultivars under drought stress. Abscisic acid (ABA) content decreased more in JM47 than in AK58, and linoleic acid content decreased in AK58 but increased in JM47. α-Tocotrienol was upregulated and strongly correlated with alpha-linolenic acid metabolism.

Conclusions: The DEGs that participated in the mTOR and alpha-linolenic acid metabolism pathways were considered candidate DEGs related to drought resistance and key metabolites α- tocotrienol, linoleic acid, and L-leucine, which could trigger a comprehensive and systemic effect on drought resistance during germination by activating mTOR-ABA signalling and the interaction of various hormones.

Keywords: RNA-seq; abscisic acid; alpha-linolenic acid; drought resistance; germination; linoleic acid; mTOR signalling; metabolomics; wheat.