Using Computer Models to Study How Rice Genes Respond to Salt Stress

Jim Crocker
6th June, 2024

Using Computer Models to Study How Rice Genes Respond to Salt Stress

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Researchers at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia studied rice genes to understand their role in salinity stress
  • Nine HKT genes in rice help manage sodium and potassium levels, crucial for salinity tolerance
  • Specific rice HKT genes are more active in roots and leaves under salt stress, aiding plant growth and stress response
Rice is frequently subjected to various environmental stresses, resulting in significant production losses. Drought and salinity are the leading causes of plant damage globally. A recent study conducted by researchers at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) aims to characterize and understand the function of rice high-affinity potassium transporters (HKTs) genes in response to salinity stress[1]. Salinity stress primarily affects plants by causing ionic stress due to the accumulation of excess sodium ions (Na+), which interferes with the homeostasis of potassium ions (K+)[2]. This imbalance impacts numerous metabolic processes. Maintaining a balanced cytosolic Na+/K+ ratio is crucial for salinity tolerance, requiring the activity of specific Na+ and K+ transporters and channels. The UKM study undertook a genome-wide analysis to reveal the evolutionarily conserved function of OsHKT in higher plants. They analyzed two microarray datasets to investigate the transcription levels of OsHKT during the vegetative and reproductive stages. Salt-treated samples were subsequently evaluated using real-time PCR. Differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were identified from additional microarray datasets, followed by constructing a DEG network that highlighted interaction partners of the OsHKTs. Genome mining of rice revealed nine HKT genes, namely OsHKT1;1–1;5 and OsHKT2;1–2;4. These genes exhibited a well-conserved domain structure called TrkH. Comprehensive phylogenetic and motif analyses clustered genes encoding HKT proteins into seven monophyletic groups, with motifs being relatively conserved. The Ka/Ks ratios indicated a high degree of purifying selection during evolutionary time, suggesting the involvement of OsHKT in stress response. The study found several cis-regulatory elements (CRE) in the promoter regions of OsHKT, demonstrating their potential roles in abiotic stress responses. Analysis of the top 250 significant DEGs from the datasets evaluated the relationship among the DEGs and HKTs. Three co-expressed OsHKT genes were discovered to be upregulated in seedlings under salinity treatment, including OsP5CS2, OsHAK1, and OsNHX2, whereas OsP5CS1 and OsHAK27 were downregulated. The transcripts of OsHKT were found to be differentially expressed in a tissue-specific manner. Analysis of microarray datasets validated by real-time PCR showed that OsHKT1;5 had a higher expression level, followed by OsHKT1;1, OsHKT1;3, and OsHKT2;1 after salinity treatment. This finding aligns with earlier studies highlighting the importance of Na+/H+ antiporters, such as NHX proteins, in maintaining ion homeostasis and turgor regulation under salinity stress[3]. Furthermore, several microRNA (miRNA) targets in rice HKT genes regulate their expression in response to stress. MiRNAs are small non-coding RNAs that play crucial roles in regulating plant responses to abiotic stress, including salinity and pathogen attack[4]. The study identified miRNA-target interactions that may contribute to the regulation of OsHKT genes under salinity stress, offering new insights into the complex regulatory networks involved in plant stress responses. The findings from this study pave the way for future investigations on genes and miRNA-target interactions in plants under environmental stresses. By understanding the specific roles and regulatory mechanisms of HKT genes, researchers can develop potential strategies to enhance stress tolerance in crops through targeted ion transport modification. This could lead to improved rice varieties that are more resilient to salinity stress, ultimately contributing to increased agricultural productivity and food security.

GeneticsBiochemPlant Science


Main Study

1) In silico approach to investigate the potential HKT gene responsive to salt stress in rice

Published 5th June, 2024

Related Studies

2) The Role of Na+ and K+ Transporters in Salt Stress Adaptation in Glycophytes.

3) Ion exchangers NHX1 and NHX2 mediate active potassium uptake into vacuoles to regulate cell turgor and stomatal function in Arabidopsis.

4) MicroRNA-mediated regulation of gene expression in the response of rice plants to fungal elicitors.

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