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Transcriptome analysis of heat stress response in switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.)

Yong-Fang Li1, Yixing Wang1, Yuhong Tang2, Vijaya Gopal Kakani3 and Ramamurthy Mahalingam1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078, USA

2 Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Genomics Core Facility, Ardmore, OK 73401, USA

3 Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078, USA

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BMC Plant Biology 2013, 13:153  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-13-153

Published: 6 October 2013



Global warming predictions indicate that temperatures will increase by another 2-6°C by the end of this century. High temperature is a major abiotic stress limiting plant growth and productivity in many areas of the world. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a model herbaceous bioenergy crop, due to its rapid growth rate, reliable biomass yield, minimal requirements of water and nutrients, adaptability to grow on marginal lands and widespread distribution throughout North America. The effect of high temperature on switchgrass physiology, cell wall composition and biomass yields has been reported. However, there is void in the knowledge of the molecular responses to heat stress in switchgrass.


We conducted long-term heat stress treatment (38°/30°C, day/night, for 50 days) in the switchgrass cultivar Alamo. A significant decrease in the plant height and total biomass was evident in the heat stressed plants compared to controls. Total RNA from control and heat stress samples were used for transcriptome analysis with switchgrass Affymetrix genechips. Following normalization and pre-processing, 5365 probesets were identified as differentially expressed using a 2-fold cutoff. Of these, 2233 probesets (2000 switchgrass unigenes) were up-regulated, and 3132 probesets (2809 unigenes) were down-regulated. Differential expression of 42 randomly selected genes from this list was validated using RT-PCR. Rice orthologs were retrieved for 78.7% of the heat stress responsive switchgrass probesets. Gene ontology (GOs) enrichment analysis using AgriGO program showed that genes related to ATPase regulator, chaperone binding, and protein folding was significantly up-regulated. GOs associated with protein modification, transcription, phosphorus and nitrogen metabolic processes, were significantly down-regulated by heat stress.


Plausible connections were identified between the identified GOs, physiological responses and heat response phenotype observed in switchgrass plants. Comparative transcriptome analysis in response to heat stress among four monocots – switchgrass, rice, wheat and maize identified 16 common genes, most of which were associated with protein refolding processes. These core genes will be valuable biomarkers for identifying heat sensitive plant germplasm since they are responsive to both short duration as well as chronic heat stress treatments, and are also expressed in different plant growth stages and tissue types.

Switchgrass; Biofuel; Microarray; Heat stress; Transcriptome