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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Characterization and transcript profiling of the pectin methylesterase (PME) and pectin methylesterase inhibitor (PMEI) gene families in flax (Linum usitatissimum)

David Pinzón-Latorre and Michael K Deyholos*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E9, Canada

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:742  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-742

Published: 30 October 2013



Pectin methylesterases (PMEs) catalyze the demethylesterification of homogalacturonans in the cell wall; their activity is regulated in part by pectin methylesterase inhibitors (PMEIs). PME activity may result in either rigidification or loosening of the cell wall, depending on the mode of demethylesterification. The activity of PMEs in the middle lamella is expected to affect intrusive elongation of phloem fibers, and their adhesion to adjacent cells. Length and extractability of phloem fibers are qualities important for their industrial uses in textiles and composites. As only three flax PMEs had been previously described, we were motivated to characterize the PME and PMEI gene families of flax.


We identified 105 putative flax PMEs (LuPMEs) and 95 putative PMEIs (LuPMEIs) within the whole-genome assembly. We found experimental evidence for the transcription of 77/105 LuPMEs and 83/95 LuPMEIs, and surveyed the transcript abundance of these in 12 different tissues and stages of development. Six major monophyletic groups of LuPMEs could be defined based on the inferred relationships of flax genes and their presumed orthologs from other species. We searched the LuPMEs and LuPMEIs for conserved residues previously reported to be important for their tertiary structure and function. In the LuPMEs, the most highly conserved residues were catalytic residues while in the LuPMEIs, cysteines forming disulfude bridges between helices α2 and α3 were most highly conserved. In general, the conservation of critical residues was higher in the genes with evidence of transcript expression than in those for which no expression was detected.


The LuPMEs and LuPMEIs comprise large families with complex patterns of transcript expression and a wide range of physical characteristics. We observed that multiple PMEs and PMEIs are expressed in partially overlapping domains, indicative of several genes acting redundantly during most processes. The potential for functional redundancy was highlighted also by the phylogenetic analyses. We were able to identify a subset of PME and PMEIs that appeared particularly relevant to fiber development, which may provide a basis for the improvement of key traits in industrial feedstocks and a better understanding of the physiological roles of PMEs and PMEIs in general.

Flax; Pectin methylesterase; Fiber; Expression analysis; Phylogenetics; PME; PMEI