skip to main content

Title: Identifying Differences in Abiotic Stress Gene Networks between Lowland and Upland Ecotypes of Switchgrass (DE-SC0008338)

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a warm-season C4 grass that is a target lignocellulosic biofuel species for use in the United States due to its local adaption capabilities and high biomass accumulation. Two ecotypes of switchgrass have been described. Members of the lowland ecotype are taller, have narrower leaf blades and generate more biomass compared to individuals from the upland ecotype. Additionally, lowland plants are generally found in the southern United States while upland switchgrass is more typically present in the northern United States. These differences are important as it is envisioned that switchgrass for biofuel production will typically be grown on marginal lands in the northern United States to supplement and diversify farmers' traditional crop incomes. While lowland switchgrass is more productive, it has poor winter survivability in northern latitudes where upland switchgrass is expected to be grown for biofuel use. Abiotic stresses likely to be encountered by switchgrass include drought and salinity. Despite initially being described as preferring wetter environments, members of the lowland ecotype have been characterized as being more drought tolerant than plants of the upland ecotype. Nonetheless, direct trials have indicated that variation for drought tolerance exists in both ecotypes, but prior to this project, onlymore » a relatively small number of switchgrass lines had been tested for drought responses. Similarly, switchgrass cultivars have not been widely tested for salt tolerance, but a few studies have shown that even mild salt stress can inhibit growth. The effects of drought and salt stress on plant growth are complex. Both drought and salinity affect the osmotic potential of plant cells and negatively affect plant growth due to reduced water potential and reduced photosynthesis that results from lower stomatal conductance of CO 2. Plants respond to drought and salt stress by activating genes that directly attempt to reduce the stress (e.g., transmembrane pumps that partition Na +) and mitigate the effects of the stress (e.g., synthesis of osmoprotectant metabolites and stress-related signaling compounds). Prior to the start of this project, no gene expression analysis had been performed on switchgrass under conditions of drought or salt stress, and therefore, relevant gene networks responding to drought and salt stress were unknown in switchgrass. In this project, we performed drought, salt and alkali-salt screens on 49 switchgrass cultivars (Liu et al 2014; Liu et al 2015; Hu et al 2015; Kim et al 2016). These experiments demonstrated that a wide range of variation exists within switchgrass for drought, salt and alkali-salt tolerance and that, while the lowland ecotype of switchgrass is often considered more tolerant of abiotic stresses, there are some upland switchgrass lines that are also very tolerant of drought, salt and alkali-salt stress. We also conducted drought and salt time course experiments with Alamo and Dacotah. We have identified modules of coexpressed genes that differentiate Alamo and Dacotah drought responses. We are continuing to analyze these results and plan to submit manuscripts describing this work in early 2017. In an effort to show how drought- and salt-related gene modules could be dissected, we generated transgenic switchgrass overexpressing either PvGTγ-1 or ZmDREB2. Increased expression of PvGTγ-1 does confer increased salt tolerance, and we were able to identify genes that are induced and suppressed by PvGTγ-1. Overexpression of ZmDREB2 increases drought tolerance in switchgrass. Analysis of the PvGTγ-1 and ZmDREB2 overexpression work is ongoing, and we plan to prepare manuscripts about these experiments for submission in early 2017.« less
 [1] ;  [1] ;  [2] ;  [2]
  1. Michigan State Univ., East Lansing, MI (United States)
  2. Virginia Polytechnic Inst. and State Univ. (Virginia Tech), Blacksburg, VA (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Michigan State Univ., East Lansing, MI (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Basic Energy Sciences (BES) (SC-22)
Country of Publication:
United States