Plants respond to low oxygen stress, particularly that caused by waterlogging, by altering transcription and translation. Previous studies have mostly focused on revealing the mechanism of the response at the early stage, and there is limited information about the transcriptional profile of genes in maize roots at the late stage of waterlogging. The genetic basis of waterlogging tolerance is largely unknown. In this study, the transcriptome at the late stage of waterlogging was assayed in root cells of the tolerant inbred line HZ32, using suppression subtractive hybridization (SSH). A forward SSH library using RNA populations from four time points (12 h, 16 h, 20 h and 24 h) after waterlogging treatment was constructed to reveal up-regulated genes, and transcriptional and linkage data was integrated to identify candidate genes for waterlogging tolerance.
Reverse Northern analysis of a set of 768 cDNA clones from the SSH library revealed a large number of genes were up-regulated by waterlogging. A total of 465 ESTs were assembled into 296 unigenes. Bioinformatic analysis revealed that the genes were involved in complex pathways, such as signal transduction, protein degradation, ion transport, carbon and amino acid metabolism, and transcriptional and translational regulation, and might play important roles at the late stage of the response to waterlogging. A significant number of unigenes were of unknown function. Approximately 67% of the unigenes could be aligned on the maize genome and 63 of them were co-located within reported QTLs.
The late response to waterlogging in maize roots involves a broad spectrum of genes, which are mainly associated with two response processes: defense at the early stage and adaption at the late stage. Signal transduction plays a key role in activating genes related to the tolerance mechanism for survival during prolonged waterlogging. The crosstalk between carbon and amino acid metabolism reveals that amino acid metabolism performs two main roles at the late stage: the regulation of cytoplasmic pH and energy supply through breakdown of the carbon skeleton.