Among abiotic stresses, drought is the most common reducer of crop yields. The slow-wilting soybean genotype PI 416937 is somewhat robust to water deficit and has been used previously to map the trait in a bi-parental population. Since drought stress response is a complex biological process, whole genome transcriptome analysis was performed to obtain a deeper understanding of the drought response in soybean.
Contrasting data from PI 416937 and the cultivar ‘Benning’, we developed a classification system to identify genes that were either responding to water-deficit in both genotypes or that had a genotype x environment (GxE) response. In spite of very different wilting phenotypes, 90% of classifiable genes had either constant expression in both genotypes (33%) or very similar response profiles (E genes, 57%). By further classifying E genes based on expression profiles, we were able to discern the functional specificity of transcriptional responses at particular stages of water-deficit, noting both the well-known reduction in photosynthesis genes as well as the less understood up-regulation of the protein transport pathway. Two percent of classifiable genes had a well-defined GxE response, many of which are located within slow-wilting QTLs. We consider these strong candidates for possible causal genes underlying PI 416937’s unique drought avoidance strategy.
There is a general and functionally significant transcriptional response to water deficit that involves not only known pathways, such as down-regulation of photosynthesis, but also up-regulation of protein transport and chromatin remodeling. Genes that show a genotypic difference are more likely to show an environmental response than genes that are constant between genotypes. In this study, at least five genes that clearly exhibited a genotype x environment response fell within known QTL and are very good candidates for further research into slow-wilting.||