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2016, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0162327

Investigating the control of chlorophyll degradation by genomic correlation mining


Frederick P. Ghandchi, Gustavo Caetano-Anolles, Steven J. Clough, and Donald R. Ort


Chlorophyll degradation is an intricate process that is critical in a variety of plant tissues at different times during the plant life cycle. Many of the photoactive chlorophyll degradation intermediates are exceptionally cytotoxic necessitating that the pathway be carefully coordinated and regulated. The primary regulatory step in the chlorophyll degradation pathway involves the enzyme pheophorbide a oxygenase (PAO), which oxidizes the chlorophyll intermediate pheophorbide a, that is eventually converted to non-fluorescent chlorophyll catabolites. There is evidence that PAO is differentially regulated across different environmental and developmental conditions with both transcriptional and post-transcriptional components, but the involved regulatory elements are uncertain or unknown. We hypothesized that transcription factors modulate PAO expression across different environmental conditions, such as cold and drought, as well as during developmental transitions to leaf senescence and maturation of green seeds. To test these hypotheses, several sets of Arabidopsis genomic and bioinformatic experiments were investigated and re-analyzed using computational approaches. PAO expression was compared across varied environmental conditions in the three separate datasets using regression modeling and correlation mining to identify gene elements co-expressed with PAO. Their functions were investigated as candidate upstream transcription factors or other regulatory elements that may regulate PAO expression. PAO transcript expression was found to be significantly up-regulated in warm conditions, during leaf senescence, and in drought conditions, and in all three conditions significantly positively correlated with expression of transcription factor Arabidopsis thaliana activating factor 1 (ATAF1), suggesting that ATAF1 is triggered in the plant response to these processes or abiotic stresses and in result up-regulates PAO expression. The proposed regulatory network includes the freezing, senescence, and drought stresses modulating factor ATAF1 and various other transcription factors and pathways, which in turn act to regulate chlorophyll degradation by up-regulating PAO expression.

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The Ort Lab is supported by many public and private partnerships, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the UK Government's Department for International Development, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

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