Open Access Research article

RBCS1 expression in coffee: Coffea orthologs, Coffea arabica homeologs, and expression variability between genotypes and under drought stress

Pierre Marraccini12*, Luciana P Freire1, Gabriel SC Alves1, Natalia G Vieira1, Felipe Vinecky1, Sonia Elbelt1, Humberto JO Ramos34, Christophe Montagnon5, Luiz GE Vieira3, Thierry Leroy2, David Pot2, Vânia A Silva6, Gustavo C Rodrigues7 and Alan C Andrade1

Author Affiliations

1 Embrapa Recursos Genéticos e Biotecnologia (LGM-NTBio), Parque Estação Biológica, CP 02372, 70770-917 Brasilia, Distrito Federal, Brazil

2 CIRAD UMR AGAP, 34398 Montpellier Cedex 5, France

3 Instituto Agronômico do Paraná (IAPAR/LBI-AMG), Rodovia Celso Garcia Cid, Km 375, CP 481, 86001-970 Londrina, Paraná, Brazil

4 Universidade Federal de Viçosa (UFV), PH Rolfs S/A, 36570-000 Viçosa, Minas Gerais, Brazil

5 CIRAD UMR RPB, 34398 Montpellier Cedex 5, France

6 EPAMIG/URESM, Rodovia Lavras/IJACI, Km 02, CP 176, 37200-000 Lavras, Minas Gerais, Brazil

7 Embrapa Cerrados, BR 020 Km18, CP 08223, 73310-970 Planaltina, Distrito Federal, Brazil

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BMC Plant Biology 2011, 11:85  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-11-85

Published: 16 May 2011



In higher plants, the inhibition of photosynthetic capacity under drought is attributable to stomatal and non-stomatal (i.e., photochemical and biochemical) effects. In particular, a disruption of photosynthetic metabolism and Rubisco regulation can be observed. Several studies reported reduced expression of the RBCS genes, which encode the Rubisco small subunit, under water stress.


Expression of the RBCS1 gene was analysed in the allopolyploid context of C. arabica, which originates from a natural cross between the C. canephora and C. eugenioides species. Our study revealed the existence of two homeologous RBCS1 genes in C. arabica: one carried by the C. canephora sub-genome (called CaCc) and the other carried by the C. eugenioides sub-genome (called CaCe). Using specific primer pairs for each homeolog, expression studies revealed that CaCe was expressed in C. eugenioides and C. arabica but was undetectable in C. canephora. On the other hand, CaCc was expressed in C. canephora but almost completely silenced in non-introgressed ("pure") genotypes of C. arabica. However, enhanced CaCc expression was observed in most C. arabica cultivars with introgressed C. canephora genome. In addition, total RBCS1 expression was higher for C. arabica cultivars that had recently introgressed C. canephora genome than for "pure" cultivars. For both species, water stress led to an important decrease in the abundance of RBCS1 transcripts. This was observed for plants grown in either greenhouse or field conditions under severe or moderate drought. However, this reduction of RBCS1 gene expression was not accompanied by a decrease in the corresponding protein in the leaves of C. canephora subjected to water withdrawal. In that case, the amount of RBCS1 was even higher under drought than under unstressed (irrigated) conditions, which suggests great stability of RBCS1 under adverse water conditions. On the other hand, for C. arabica, high nocturnal expression of RBCS1 could also explain the accumulation of the RBCS1 protein under water stress. Altogether, the results presented here suggest that the content of RBCS was not responsible for the loss of photosynthetic capacity that is commonly observed in water-stressed coffee plants.


We showed that the CaCe homeolog was expressed in C. eugenioides and non-introgressed ("pure") genotypes of C. arabica but that it was undetectable in C. canephora. On the other hand, the CaCc homeolog was expressed in C. canephora but highly repressed in C. arabica. Expression of the CaCc homeolog was enhanced in C. arabica cultivars that experienced recent introgression with C. canephora. For both C. canephora and C. arabica species, total RBCS1 gene expression was highly reduced with WS. Unexpectedly, the accumulation of RBCS1 protein was observed in the leaves of C. canephora under WS, possibly coming from nocturnal RBCS1 expression. These results suggest that the increase in the amount of RBCS1 protein could contribute to the antioxidative function of photorespiration in water-stressed coffee plants.