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Comparative Transcriptomic And Physiological Analyses Of Contrasting Hybrid Cultivars ND476 And ZX978 Identify Important Differentially Expressed Genes And Pathways Regulating Drought Stress Tolerance In Maize

G. Liu, Tinashe Zenda, Songtao Liu, X. Wang, Hongyu Jin, Anyi Dong, Yatong Yang, H. Duan
Published 2020 · Medicine

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Drought is the major abiotic stress factor that negatively influences growth and yield in cereal grain crops such as maize (Zea mays L.). A multitude of genes and pathways tightly modulate plant growth, development and responses to environmental stresses including drought. Therefore, crop breeding efforts for enhanced drought resistance require improved knowledge of plant drought responses. Here, we sought to elucidate the molecular and physiological mechanisms underpinning maize drought stress tolerance. We therefore applied a 12-day water-deficit stress treatment to maize plants of two contrasting (drought tolerant ND476 and drought sensitive ZX978) hybrid cultivars at the late vegetative (V12) growth stage and performed a large-scale RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) transcriptome analysis of the leaf tissues. A comparative analysis of the two genotypes leaf transcriptomes and physiological parameters revealed the key differentially expressed genes (DEGs) and metabolic pathways that respond to drought in a genotype-specific manner. A total of 3114 DEGs were identified, with 21 DEGs being specifically expressed in tolerant genotype ND476 in response to drought stress. Of these, genes involved in secondary metabolites biosynthesis, transcription factor regulation, detoxification and stress defense were highly expressed in ND476. Physiological analysis results substantiated our RNA-seq data, with ND476 exhibiting better cell water retention, higher soluble protein content and guaiacol peroxidase activity, along with low lipid peroxidation extent than the sensitive cultivar ZX978 under drought conditions. Our findings enrich the maize genetic resources and enhance our further understanding of the molecular mechanisms regulating drought stress tolerance in maize. Additionally, the DEGs screened in this study may provide a foundational basis for our future targeted cloning studies.
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