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Comparative genomic analysis of the R2R3 MYB secondary cell wall regulators of Arabidopsis, poplar, rice, maize, and switchgrass

Kangmei Zhao and Laura E Bartley*

Author Affiliations

Department of Microbiology and Plant Biology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019, USA

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BMC Plant Biology 2014, 14:135  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-14-135

Published: 18 May 2014



R2R3 MYB proteins constitute one of the largest plant transcription factor clades and regulate diverse plant-specific processes. Several R2R3 MYB proteins act as regulators of secondary cell wall (SCW) biosynthesis in Arabidopsis thaliana (At), a dicotyledenous plant. Relatively few studies have examined SCW R2R3 MYB function in grasses, which may have diverged from dicots in terms of SCW regulatory mechanisms, as they have in cell wall composition and patterning. Understanding cell wall regulation is especially important for improving lignocellulosic bioenergy crops, such as switchgrass.


Here, we describe the results of applying phylogenic, OrthoMCL, and sequence identity analyses to classify the R2R3 MYB family proteins from the annotated proteomes of Arabidposis, poplar, rice, maize and the initial genome (v0.0) and translated transcriptome of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). We find that the R2R3 MYB proteins of the five species fall into 48 subgroups, including three dicot-specific, six grass-specific, and two panicoid grass-expanded subgroups. We observe four classes of phylogenetic relationships within the subgroups of known SCW-regulating MYB proteins between Arabidopsis and rice, ranging from likely one-to-one orthology (for AtMYB26, AtMYB103, AtMYB69) to no homologs identifiable (for AtMYB75). Microarray data for putative switchgrass SCW MYBs indicate that many maintain similar expression patterns with the Arabidopsis SCW regulators. However, some of the switchgrass-expanded candidate SCW MYBs exhibit differences in gene expression patterns among paralogs, consistent with subfunctionalization. Furthermore, some switchgrass representatives of grass-expanded clades have gene expression patterns consistent with regulating SCW development.


Our analysis suggests that no single comparative genomics tool is able to provide a complete picture of the R2R3 MYB protein family without leaving ambiguities, and establishing likely false-negative and -positive relationships, but that used together a relatively clear view emerges. Generally, we find that most R2R3 MYBs that regulate SCW in Arabidopsis are likely conserved in the grasses. This comparative analysis of the R2R3 MYB family will facilitate transfer of understanding of regulatory mechanisms among species and enable control of SCW biosynthesis in switchgrass toward improving its biomass quality.

Comparative genomics; Secondary cell wall; R2R3 MYB; Transcription factor; Homolog; Ortholog; Biofuel