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1.  Small RNAs in Plant Responses to Abiotic Stresses: Regulatory Roles and Study Methods 
To survive under abiotic stresses in the environment, plants trigger a reprogramming of gene expression, by transcriptional regulation or translational regulation, to turn on protective mechanisms. The current focus of research on how plants cope with abiotic stresses has transitioned from transcriptomic analyses to small RNA investigations. In this review, we have summarized and evaluated the current methodologies used in the identification and validation of small RNAs and their targets, in the context of plant responses to abiotic stresses.
PMCID: PMC4632763  PMID: 26501263
abiotic stress; bioinformatics; microRNA; small RNA; transcriptional regulation
2.  Using RNA-Seq Data to Evaluate Reference Genes Suitable for Gene Expression Studies in Soybean 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(9):e0136343.
Differential gene expression profiles often provide important clues for gene functions. While reverse transcription quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) is an important tool, the validity of the results depends heavily on the choice of proper reference genes. In this study, we employed new and published RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq) datasets (26 sequencing libraries in total) to evaluate reference genes reported in previous soybean studies. In silico PCR showed that 13 out of 37 previously reported primer sets have multiple targets, and 4 of them have amplicons with different sizes. Using a probabilistic approach, we identified new and improved candidate reference genes. We further performed 2 validation tests (with 26 RNA samples) on 8 commonly used reference genes and 7 newly identified candidates, using RT-qPCR. In general, the new candidate reference genes exhibited more stable expression levels under the tested experimental conditions. The three newly identified candidate reference genes Bic-C2, F-box protein2, and VPS-like gave the best overall performance, together with the commonly used ELF1b. It is expected that the proposed probabilistic model could serve as an important tool to identify stable reference genes when more soybean RNA-Seq data from different growth stages and treatments are used.
PMCID: PMC4562714  PMID: 26348924
3.  Paraformaldehyde Fixation May Lead to Misinterpretation of the Subcellular Localization of Plant High Mobility Group Box Proteins 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(8):e0135033.
Arabidopsis High Mobility Group Box (HMBG) proteins were previously found associated with the interphase chromatin but not the metaphase chromosome. However, these studies are usually based on immunolocalization analysis involving paraformaldehyde fixation. Paraformaldehyde fixation has been widely adapted to preserved cell morphology before immunofluorescence staining. On one hand, the processed cells are no longer living. On the other hand, the processing may lead to misinterpretation of localization. HMGBs from Arabidopsis were fused with enhanced green fluorescence protein (EGFP) and transformed into tobacco BY-2 cells. Basically, the localization of these HMGB proteins detected with EGFP fluorescence in interphase agreed with previous publications. Upon 4% paraformaldehyde fixation, AtHMGB1 was found associated with interphase but not the metaphase chromosomes as previously reported. However, when EGFP fluorescence signal was directly observed under confocal microscope without fixation, association of AtHMGB1 with metaphase chromosomes can be detected. Paraformaldehyde fixation led to dissociation of EGFP tagged AtHMBG1 protein from metaphase chromosomes. This kind of pre-processing of live specimen may lead to dissociation of protein-protein or protein-nucleic acid interaction. Therefore, using of EGFP fusion proteins in live specimen is a better way to determine the correct localization and interaction of proteins.
PMCID: PMC4535772  PMID: 26270959
4.  How Did Arthropod Sesquiterpenoids and Ecdysteroids Arise? Comparison of Hormonal Pathway Genes in Noninsect Arthropod Genomes 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2015;7(7):1951-1959.
The phylum Arthropoda contains the largest number of described living animal species, with insects and crustaceans dominating the terrestrial and aquatic environments, respectively. Their successful radiations have long been linked to their rigid exoskeleton in conjunction with their specialized endocrine systems. In order to understand how hormones can contribute to the evolution of these animals, here, we have categorized the sesquiterpenoid and ecdysteroid pathway genes in the noninsect arthropod genomes, which are known to play important roles in the regulation of molting and metamorphosis in insects. In our analyses, the majority of gene homologs involved in the biosynthetic, degradative, and signaling pathways of sesquiterpenoids and ecdysteroids can be identified, implying these two hormonal systems were present in the last common ancestor of arthropods. Moreover, we found that the “Broad-Complex” was specifically gained in the Pancrustacea, and the innovation of juvenile hormone (JH) in the insect linage correlates with the gain of the JH epoxidase (CYP15A1/C1) and the key residue changes in the binding domain of JH receptor (“Methoprene-tolerant”). Furthermore, the gain of “Phantom” differentiates chelicerates from the other arthropods in using ponasterone A rather than 20-hydroxyecdysone as molting hormone. This study establishes a comprehensive framework for interpreting the evolution of these vital hormonal pathways in these most successful animals, the arthropods, for the first time.
PMCID: PMC4524487  PMID: 26112967
juvenile hormone; methyl farnesoate; ecdysteroid; Myriapoda; Chelicerata; Arthropoda
5.  Genome of the Rusty Millipede, Trigoniulus corallinus, Illuminates Diplopod, Myriapod, and Arthropod Evolution 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2015;7(5):1280-1295.
The increasing availability of genomic information from the Arthropoda continues to revolutionize our understanding of the biology of this most diverse animal phylum. However, our sampling of arthropod diversity remains uneven, and key clade such as the Myriapoda are severely underrepresented. Here we present the genome of the cosmopolitanly distributed Rusty Millipede Trigoniulus corallinus, which represents the first diplopod genome to be published, and the second example from the Myriapoda as a whole. This genomic resource contains the majority of core eukaryotic genes (94.3%), and key transcription factor classes that were thought to be lost in the Ecdysozoa. Mitochondrial genome and gene family (transcription factor, Dscam, circadian clock-driving protein, odorant receptor cassette, bioactive compound, and cuticular protein) analyses were also carried out to shed light on their states in the Diplopoda and Myriapoda. The ready availability of T. corallinus recommends it as a new model for evolutionary developmental biology, and the data set described here will be of widespread utility in investigating myriapod and arthropod genomics and evolution.
PMCID: PMC4453065  PMID: 25900922
millipede; Myriapoda; Diplopoda; genome; mitochondrial genome; Arthropoda
6.  Impacts of nucleotide fixation during soybean domestication and improvement 
BMC Plant Biology  2015;15:81.
Plant domestication involves complex morphological and physiological modification of wild species to meet human needs. Artificial selection during soybean domestication and improvement results in substantial phenotypic divergence between wild and cultivated soybeans. Strong selective pressure on beneficial phenotypes could cause nucleotide fixations in the founder population of soybean cultivars in quite a short time.
Analysis of available sequencing accessions estimates that ~5.3 million single nucleotide variations reach saturation in cultivars, and then ~9.8 million in soybean germplasm. Selective sweeps defined by loss of genetic diversity reveal 2,255 and 1,051 genes were involved in domestication and subsequent improvement, respectively. Both processes introduced ~0.1 million nucleotide fixations, which contributed to the divergence of wild and cultivated soybeans. Meta-analysis of reported quantitative trait loci (QTL) and selective signals with nucleotide fixation identifies a series of putative candidate genes responsible for 13 agronomically important traits. Nucleotide fixation mediated by artificial selection affected diverse molecular functions and biological reactions that associated with soybean morphological and physiological changes. Of them, plant-pathogen interactions are of particular relevance as selective nucleotide fixations happened in disease resistance genes, cyclic nucleotide-gated ion channels and terpene synthases.
Our analysis provides insights into the impacts of nucleotide fixation during soybean domestication and improvement, which would facilitate future QTL mapping and molecular breeding practice.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12870-015-0463-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4358728  PMID: 25849896
Soybean domestication; Genetic improvement; Artificial selection; Nucleotide fixation; Plant-pathogen interaction
7.  Identification of a novel salt tolerance gene in wild soybean by whole-genome sequencing 
Nature Communications  2014;5:4340.
Using a whole-genome-sequencing approach to explore germplasm resources can serve as an important strategy for crop improvement, especially in investigating wild accessions that may contain useful genetic resources that have been lost during the domestication process. Here we sequence and assemble a draft genome of wild soybean and construct a recombinant inbred population for genotyping-by-sequencing and phenotypic analyses to identify multiple QTLs relevant to traits of interest in agriculture. We use a combination of de novo sequencing data from this work and our previous germplasm re-sequencing data to identify a novel ion transporter gene, GmCHX1, and relate its sequence alterations to salt tolerance. Rapid gain-of-function tests show the protective effects of GmCHX1 towards salt stress. This combination of whole-genome de novo sequencing, high-density-marker QTL mapping by re-sequencing and functional analyses can serve as an effective strategy to unveil novel genomic information in wild soybean to facilitate crop improvement.
The identification of genes that control economically important traits is an essential step towards crop improvement. Here the authors sequence the genome of the wild soybean and, through a combined genetic and functional approach, identify a new gene affecting salt tolerance in soybean.
PMCID: PMC4104456  PMID: 25004933
8.  Food Supply and Food Safety Issues in China 
Lancet  2013;381(9882):10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60776-X.
Food supply and food safety are major global public health issues, and are particularly important in heavily populated countries such as China. Rapid industrialisation and modernisation in China are having profound effects on food supply and food safety. In this Review, we identified important factors limiting agricultural production in China, including conversion of agricultural land to other uses, freshwater deficits, and soil quality issues. Additionally, increased demand for some agricultural products is examined, particularly those needed to satisfy the increased consumption of animal products in the Chinese diet, which threatens to drive production towards crops used as animal feed. Major sources of food poisoning in China include pathogenic microorganisms, toxic animals and plants entering the food supply, and chemical contamination. Meanwhile, two growing food safety issues are illegal additives and contamination of the food supply by toxic industrial waste. China’s connections to global agricultural markets are also having important effects on food supply and food safety within the country. Although the Chinese Government has shown determination to reform laws, establish monitoring systems, and strengthen food safety regulation, weak links in implementation remain.
PMCID: PMC3888022  PMID: 23746904
9.  GmSAL1 Hydrolyzes Inositol-1,4,5-Trisphosphate and Regulates Stomatal Closure in Detached Leaves and Ion Compartmentalization in Plant Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e78181.
Inositol polyphosphatases are important regulators since they control the catabolism of phosphoinositol derivatives, which are often signaling molecules for cellular processes. Here we report on the characterization of one of their members in soybean, GmSAL1. In contrast to the substrate specificity of its Arabidopsis homologues (AtSAL1 and AtSAL2), GmSAL1 only hydrolyzes inositol-1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3) but not inositol-1,3,4-trisphosphate or inositol-1,4-bisphosphate.The ectopic expression of GmSAL1 in transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana led to a reduction in IP3 signals, which was inferred from the reduction in the cytoplasmic signals of the in vivo biomarker pleckstrin homology domain–green florescent protein fusion protein and the suppression of abscisic acid-induced stomatal closure. At the cellular level, the ectopic expression of GmSAL1 in transgenic BY-2 cells enhanced vacuolar Na+ compartmentalization and therefore could partially alleviate salinity stress.
PMCID: PMC3805524  PMID: 24167607
10.  GmFT2a Polymorphism and Maturity Diversity in Soybeans 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e77474.
Soybean is a short-day crop of agricultural, ecological, and economic importance. The sensitive photoperiod responses significantly limit its breeding and adaptation. GmFT2a, a putative florigen gene with different transcription profiles in two cultivars (late-maturing Zigongdongdou and early-maturing Heihe 27) with different maturity profiles, is key to flowering and maturation. However, up to now, its role in the diverse patterns of maturation in soybeans has been poorly understood.
Eighty varieties, including 19 wild accessions, covering 11 of all 13 maturity groups, were collected. They were planted in pots and maintained under different photoperiodicity conditions (SD, short day; LD, long day; and ND, natural day). The day to first flowering was recorded and the sensitivity to photoperiod was investigated. Polymorphisms in the GmFT2a coding sequence were explored by searching the known SNP database (NCBI dbSNP). The GmFT2a promoter regions were then cloned from these varieties and sequenced. Further polymorphism and association analyses were conducted.
These varieties varied greatly in time to first flowering under ND and exhibited a consecutive distribution of photoperiod sensitivity, which suggested that there is rich diversity in flowering time. Furthermore, although GmFT2a had only one known synonymous SNP in the coding sequence, there were 17 haplotypes of the GmFT2a promoter region, HT06 of which was extremely abundant. Further association analysis found some SNPs that might be associated with day to first flowering and photoperiod sensitivity.
Although GmFT2a is a key flowering gene, GmFT2a polymorphism does not appear to be responsible for maturity diversity in soybean.
PMCID: PMC3796496  PMID: 24155962
11.  Silicon Era of Carbon-Based Life: Application of Genomics and Bioinformatics in Crop Stress Research 
Abiotic and biotic stresses lead to massive reprogramming of different life processes and are the major limiting factors hampering crop productivity. Omics-based research platforms allow for a holistic and comprehensive survey on crop stress responses and hence may bring forth better crop improvement strategies. Since high-throughput approaches generate considerable amounts of data, bioinformatics tools will play an essential role in storing, retrieving, sharing, processing, and analyzing them. Genomic and functional genomic studies in crops still lag far behind similar studies in humans and other animals. In this review, we summarize some useful genomics and bioinformatics resources available to crop scientists. In addition, we also discuss the major challenges and advancements in the “-omics” studies, with an emphasis on their possible impacts on crop stress research and crop improvement.
PMCID: PMC3709742  PMID: 23759993
bioinformatics; crops; genomics; stresses
12.  GmPHD5 acts as an important regulator for crosstalk between histone H3K4 di-methylation and H3K14 acetylation in response to salinity stress in soybean 
BMC Plant Biology  2011;11:178.
Accumulated evidence suggest that specific patterns of histone posttranslational modifications (PTMs) and their crosstalks may determine transcriptional outcomes. However, the regulatory mechanisms of these "histone codes" in plants remain largely unknown.
In this study, we demonstrate for the first time that a salinity stress inducible PHD (plant homeodomain) finger domain containing protein GmPHD5 can read the "histone code" underlying the methylated H3K4. GmPHD5 interacts with other DNA binding proteins, including GmGNAT1 (an acetyl transferase), GmElongin A (a transcription elongation factor) and GmISWI (a chromatin remodeling protein). Our results suggest that GmPHD5 can recognize specific histone methylated H3K4, with preference to di-methylated H3K4. Here, we illustrate that the interaction between GmPHD5 and GmGNAT1 is regulated by the self-acetylation of GmGNAT1, which can also acetylate histone H3. GmGNAT1 exhibits a preference toward acetylated histone H3K14. These results suggest a histone crosstalk between methylated H3K4 and acetylated H3K14. Consistent to its putative roles in gene regulation under salinity stress, we showed that GmPHD5 can bind to the promoters of some confirmed salinity inducible genes in soybean.
Here, we propose a model suggesting that the nuclear protein GmPHD5 is capable of regulating the crosstalk between histone methylation and histone acetylation of different lysine residues. Nevertheless, GmPHD5 could also recruit chromatin remodeling factors and transcription factors of salt stress inducible genes to regulate their expression in response to salinity stress.
PMCID: PMC3288756  PMID: 22168212
13.  Rice Hypersensitive Induced Reaction Protein 1 (OsHIR1) associates with plasma membrane and triggers hypersensitive cell death 
BMC Plant Biology  2010;10:290.
In plants, HIR (Hypersensitive Induced Reaction) proteins, members of the PID (Proliferation, Ion and Death) superfamily, have been shown to play a part in the development of spontaneous hypersensitive response lesions in leaves, in reaction to pathogen attacks. The levels of HIR proteins were shown to correlate with localized host cell deaths and defense responses in maize and barley. However, not much was known about the HIR proteins in rice. Since rice is an important cereal crop consumed by more than 50% of the populations in Asia and Africa, it is crucial to understand the mechanisms of disease responses in this plant. We previously identified the rice HIR1 (OsHIR1) as an interacting partner of the OsLRR1 (rice Leucine-Rich Repeat protein 1). Here we show that OsHIR1 triggers hypersensitive cell death and its localization to the plasma membrane is enhanced by OsLRR1.
Through electron microscopy studies using wild type rice plants, OsHIR1 was found to mainly localize to the plasma membrane, with a minor portion localized to the tonoplast. Moreover, the plasma membrane localization of OsHIR1 was enhanced in transgenic rice plants overexpressing its interacting protein partner, OsLRR1. Co-localization of OsHIR1 and OsLRR1 to the plasma membrane was confirmed by double-labeling electron microscopy. Pathogen inoculation studies using transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana expressing either OsHIR1 or OsLRR1 showed that both transgenic lines exhibited increased resistance toward the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato DC3000. However, OsHIR1 transgenic plants produced more extensive spontaneous hypersensitive response lesions and contained lower titers of the invading pathogen, when compared to OsLRR1 transgenic plants.
The OsHIR1 protein is mainly localized to the plasma membrane, and its subcellular localization in that compartment is enhanced by OsLRR1. The expression of OsHIR1 may sensitize the plant so that it is more prone to HR and hence can react more promptly to limit the invading pathogens' spread from the infection sites.
PMCID: PMC3022912  PMID: 21192820
14.  Mass spectrometry analysis of the variants of histone H3 and H4 of soybean and their post-translational modifications 
BMC Plant Biology  2009;9:98.
Histone modifications and histone variants are of importance in many biological processes. To understand the biological functions of the global dynamics of histone modifications and histone variants in higher plants, we elucidated the variants and post-translational modifications of histones in soybean, a legume plant with a much bigger genome than that of Arabidopsis thaliana.
In soybean leaves, mono-, di- and tri-methylation at Lysine 4, Lysine 27 and Lysine 36, and acetylation at Lysine 14, 18 and 23 were detected in HISTONE H3. Lysine 27 was prone to being mono-methylated, while tri-methylation was predominant at Lysine 36. We also observed that Lysine 27 methylation and Lysine 36 methylation usually excluded each other in HISTONE H3. Although methylation at HISTONE H3 Lysine 79 was not reported in A. thaliana, mono- and di-methylated HISTONE H3 Lysine 79 were detected in soybean. Besides, acetylation at Lysine 8 and 12 of HISTONE H4 in soybean were identified. Using a combination of mass spectrometry and nano-liquid chromatography, two variants of HISTONE H3 were detected and their modifications were determined. They were different at positions of A31F41S87S90 (HISTONE variant H3.1) and T31Y41H87L90 (HISTONE variant H3.2), respectively. The methylation patterns in these two HISTONE H3 variants also exhibited differences. Lysine 4 and Lysine 36 methylation were only detected in HISTONE H3.2, suggesting that HISTONE variant H3.2 might be associated with actively transcribing genes. In addition, two variants of histone H4 (H4.1 and H4.2) were also detected, which were missing in other organisms. In the histone variant H4.1 and H4.2, the amino acid 60 was isoleucine and valine, respectively.
This work revealed several distinct variants of soybean histone and their modifications that were different from A. thaliana, thus providing important biological information toward further understanding of the histone modifications and their functional significance in higher plants.
PMCID: PMC2732622  PMID: 19643030

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