The increased demand for harvesting energy wood raises questions about its effects on the functioning of the forest ecosystems, soil processes and biodiversity. Impacts of tree stump removal on ectomycorrhizal fungal (EMF) communities of Norway spruce saplings were studied with 454-pyrosequencing in a 3-year field experiment replicated in 3 geographical areas. This is possibly the most thorough investigation of EMF communities associated with saplings grown on sites subjected to energy wood harvesting. To separate impacts of tree stump and logging residue removal on EMF and plant variables, we used three harvesting treatments with increasing complexity from patch mounding alone (P) to patch mounding combined with logging residue removal (RP), and patch mounding combined with both logging residue and stump removal (SRP). Saplings grown in uncut forests (F) served as references for harvesting treatments. A majority of sequences (>92%) and operational taxonomic units (OTUs, 55%) were assigned as EMF. EMF OTU richness, fungal community composition or sapling growth did not differ between harvesting treatments (P, RP and SRP), while EMF OTU richness, diversity and evenness were highest and sapling growth lowest in the undisturbed reference forests (F). The short study period may partially explain the similarities in fungal and sapling variables in different harvesting treatments. In conclusion, our results indicate that neither stump removal nor logging residue removal have significant additional negative impacts on EMF communities or growth of Norway spruce saplings in the short-term compared with the impacts of more conventional harvesting methods, including clear cutting and patch mounding.
Much remains unknown of molecular events controlling the plant hypersensitive defense response (HR), a rapid localized cell death that limits pathogen spread and is mediated by resistance (R-) genes. Genetic control of the HR is hard to quantify due to its microscopic and rapid nature. Natural modifiers of the ectopic HR phenotype induced by an aberrant auto-active R-gene (Rp1-D21), were mapped in a population of 3,381 recombinant inbred lines from the maize nested association mapping population. Joint linkage analysis was conducted to identify 32 additive but no epistatic quantitative trait loci (QTL) using a linkage map based on more than 7000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Genome-wide association (GWA) analysis of 26.5 million SNPs was conducted after adjusting for background QTL. GWA identified associated SNPs that colocalized with 44 candidate genes. Thirty-six of these genes colocalized within 23 of the 32 QTL identified by joint linkage analysis. The candidate genes included genes predicted to be in involved programmed cell death, defense response, ubiquitination, redox homeostasis, autophagy, calcium signalling, lignin biosynthesis and cell wall modification. Twelve of the candidate genes showed significant differential expression between isogenic lines differing for the presence of Rp1-D21. Low but significant correlations between HR-related traits and several previously-measured disease resistance traits suggested that the genetic control of these traits was substantially, though not entirely, independent. This study provides the first system-wide analysis of natural variation that modulates the HR response in plants.
During plant growth, dividing cells in meristems must coordinate transitions from division to expansion and differentiation, thus generating three distinct developmental zones: the meristem, elongation zone and differentiation zone1. Simultaneously, plants display tropisms, rapid adjustments of their direction of growth to adapt to environmental conditions. It is unclear how stable zonation is maintained during transient adjustments in growth direction. In Arabidopsis roots, many aspects of zonation are controlled by the phytohormone auxin and auxin-induced PLETHORA (PLT) transcription factors, both of which display a graded distribution with a maximum near the root tip2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. In addition, auxin is also pivotal for tropic responses13,14. Here, using an iterative experimental and computational approach, we show how an interplay between auxin and PLTs controls zonation and gravitropism. We find that the PLT gradient is not a direct, proportionate readout of the auxin gradient. Rather, prolonged high auxin levels generate a narrow PLT transcription domain from which a gradient of PLT protein is subsequently generated through slow growth dilution and cell-to-cell movement. The resulting PLT levels define the location of developmental zones. In addition to slowly promoting PLT transcription, auxin also rapidly influences division, expansion and differentiation rates. We demonstrate how this specific regulatory design in which auxin cooperates with PLTs through different mechanisms and on different timescales enables both the fast tropic environmental responses and stable zonation dynamics necessary for coordinated cell differentiation.
Bjorn Usadel and colleagues report the genome sequence of the wild tomato species Solanum pennellii. The authors identify genes important for stress tolerance, metabolism and fruit maturation and suggest that transposable elements have had an important role in the evolution of the S. penellii stress response.
During plant growth, dividing cells in meristems must coordinate transitions from division to expansion and differentiation, thus generating three distinct developmental zones: the meristem, elongation zone and differentiation zone1. Simultaneously, plants display tropisms, rapid adjustments of their direction of growth to adapt to environmental conditions. It is unclear how stable zonation is maintained during transient adjustments in growth direction. In Arabidopsis roots, many aspects of zonation are controlled by the phytohormone auxin and auxin-induced PLETHORA (PLT) transcription factors, both of which display a graded distribution with a maximum near the root tip2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. In addition, auxin is also pivotal for tropic responses13, 14. Here, using an iterative experimental and computational approach, we show how an interplay between auxin and PLTs controls zonation and gravitropism. We find that the PLT gradient is not a direct, proportionate readout of the auxin gradient. Rather, prolonged high auxin levels generate a narrow PLT transcription domain from which a gradient of PLT protein is subsequently generated through slow growth dilution and cell-to-cell movement. The resulting PLT levels define the location of developmental zones. In addition to slowly promoting PLT transcription, auxin also rapidly influences division, expansion and differentiation rates. We demonstrate how this specific regulatory design in which auxin cooperates with PLTs through different mechanisms and on different timescales enables both the fast tropic environmental responses and stable zonation dynamics necessary for coordinated cell differentiation.
Root branching is critical for plants to secure anchorage and ensure the supply of water, minerals and nutrients. To date, research on root branching has focused on lateral root development in young seedlings. However, many other programmes of post-embryonic root organogenesis exist in angiosperms. In cereal crops the majority of the mature root system is composed of several classes of adventitious roots that include crown roots and brace roots. In this Update, we initially describe the diversity of post-embryonic root forms. Next, we review recent advances in our understanding of the genes, signals and mechanisms regulating lateral root and adventitious root branching in the plant models, Arabidopsis, maize and rice. Whilst many common signals, regulatory components and mechanisms have been identified that control the initiation, morphogenesis and emergence of new lateral and adventitious root organs, much more remains to be done. We conclude by discussing the challenges and opportunities facing root branching research.
The identity of plant host genetic factors controlling the composition of the plant microbiota and the extent to which plant genes affect associated microbial populations is currently unknown. Here, we use a candidate gene approach to investigate host effects on the phyllosphere community composition and abundance. To reduce the environmental factors that might mask genetic factors, the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana was used in a gnotobiotic system and inoculated with a reduced complexity synthetic bacterial community composed of seven strains representing the most abundant phyla in the phyllosphere. From a panel of 55 plant mutants with alterations in the surface structure, cell wall, defense signaling, secondary metabolism, and pathogen recognition, a small number of single host mutations displayed an altered microbiota composition and/or abundance. Host alleles that resulted in the strongest perturbation of the microbiota relative to the wild-type were lacs2 and pec1. These mutants affect cuticle formation and led to changes in community composition and an increased bacterial abundance relative to the wild-type plants, suggesting that different bacteria can benefit from a modified cuticle to different extents. Moreover, we identified ein2, which is involved in ethylene signaling, as a host factor modulating the community's composition. Finally, we found that different Arabidopsisaccessions exhibited different communities, indicating that plant host genetic factors shape the associated microbiota, thus harboring significant potential for the identification of novel plant factors affecting the microbiota of the communities.
In plants and animals, nucleotide-binding and leucine-rich repeat domain containing (NLR) immune receptors are utilized to detect the presence or activities of pathogen-derived molecules. However, the mechanisms by which NLR proteins induce defense responses remain unclear. Here, we report the characterization of one basic Helix-loop-Helix (bHLH) type transcription factor (TF), bHLH84, identified from a reverse genetic screen. It functions as a transcriptional activator that enhances the autoimmunity of NLR mutant snc1 (suppressor of npr1-1, constitutive 1) and confers enhanced immunity in wild-type backgrounds when overexpressed. Simultaneously knocking out three closely related bHLH paralogs attenuates RPS4-mediated immunity and partially suppresses the autoimmune phenotypes of snc1, while overexpression of the other two close paralogs also renders strong autoimmunity, suggesting functional redundancy in the gene family. Intriguingly, the autoimmunity conferred by bHLH84overexpression can be largely suppressed by the loss-of-function snc1-r1 mutation, suggesting that SNC1 is required for its proper function. In planta co-immunoprecipitation revealed interactions between not only bHLH84 and SNC1, but also bHLH84 and RPS4, indicating that bHLH84 associates with these NLRs. Together with previous finding that SNC1 associates with repressor TPR1 to repress negative regulators, we hypothesize that nuclear NLR proteins may interact with both transcriptional repressors and activators during immune responses, enabling potentially faster and more robust transcriptional reprogramming upon pathogen recognition.
•Fe deficiency alters the photosynthetic apparatus and promotes its remodeling.•Fe is a limiting factor for biomass production and for plant product quality.•Knowledge-based improvement of Fe nutrition can remediate deficiency on calcareous soils.•Fe biofortification of edible parts of crops improves the human diet.
One of the grand challenges in modern agriculture is increasing biomass production, while improving plant product quality, in a sustainable way. Of the minerals, iron (Fe) plays a major role in this process because it is essential both for plant productivity and for the quality of their products. Fe homeostasis is an important determinant of photosynthetic efficiency in algae and higher plants, and we review here the impact of Fe limitation or excess on the structure and function of the photosynthetic apparatus. We also discuss the agronomic, plant breeding, and transgenic approaches that are used to remediate Fe deficiency of plants on calcareous soils, and suggest ways to increase the Fe content and bioavailability of the edible parts of crops to improve human diet.
•Factors regulating transcript elongation contribute to the control of gene expression.•They facilitate RNA polymerase II progression through chromatin.•Elongation control is involved in shaping transcriptomes and adjusting plant growth and development to internal and external cues.
Elongation is a dynamic and highly regulated step of eukaryotic gene transcription. A variety of transcript elongation factors (TEFs), including modulators of RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) activity, histone chaperones, and histone modifiers, have been characterized from plants. These factors control the efficiency of transcript elongation of subsets of genes in the chromatin context and thus contribute to tuning gene expression programs. We review here how genetic and biochemical analyses, primarily in Arabidopsis thaliana, have advanced our understanding of how TEFs adjust plant gene transcription. These studies have revealed that TEFs regulate plant growth and development by modulating diverse processes including hormone signaling, circadian clock, pathogen defense, responses to light, and developmental transitions.
Filamentous pathogens pose a substantial threat to global food security. One central question in plant pathology is how pathogens cause infection and manage to evade or suppress plant immunity to promote disease. With many technological advances over the past decade, including DNA sequencing technology, an array of new tools has become embedded within the toolbox of next-generation plant pathologists. By employing a multidisciplinary approach plant pathologists can fully leverage these technical advances to answer key questions in plant pathology, aimed at achieving global food security. This review discusses the impact of: cell biology and genetics on progressing our understanding of infection structure formation on the leaf surface; biochemical and molecular analysis to study how pathogens subdue plant immunity and manipulate plant processes through effectors; genomics and DNA sequencing technologies on all areas of plant pathology; and new forms of collaboration on accelerating exploitation of big data. As we embark on the next phase in plant pathology, the integration of systems biology promises to provide a holistic perspective of plant–pathogen interactions from big data and only once we fully appreciate these complexities can we design truly sustainable solutions to preserve our resources.
An extraordinarily precise regulation of chlorophyll biosynthesis is essential for plant growth and development. However, our knowledge on the complex regulatory mechanisms of chlorophyll biosynthesis is very limited. Previous studies have demonstrated that miR171-targeted scarecrow-like proteins (SCL6/22/27) negatively regulate chlorophyll biosynthesis via an unknown mechanism. Here we showed that SCLs inhibit the expression of the key gene encoding protochlorophyllide oxidoreductase (POR) in light-grown plants, but have no significant effect on protochlorophyllide biosynthesis in etiolated seedlings. Histochemical analysis of β-glucuronidase (GUS) activity in transgenic plants expressing pSCL27::rSCL27-GUS revealed that SCL27-GUS accumulates at high levels and suppresses chlorophyll biosynthesis at the leaf basal proliferation region during leaf development. Transient gene expression assays showed that the promoter activity of PORC is indeed regulated by SCL27. Consistently, chromatin immunoprecipitation and quantitative PCR assays showed that SCL27 binds to the promoter region of PORC in vivo. An electrophoretic mobility shift assay revealed that SCL27 is directly interacted with G(A/G)(A/T)AA(A/T)GT cis-elements of the PORCpromoter. Furthermore, genetic analysis showed that gibberellin (GA)-regulated chlorophyll biosynthesis is mediated, at least in part, by SCLs. We demonstrated that SCL27 interacts with DELLA proteins in vitro and in vivo by yeast-two-hybrid and coimmunoprecipitation analysis and found that their interaction reduces the binding activity of SCL27 to the PORCpromoter. Additionally, we showed that SCL27 activates MIR171 gene expression, forming a feedback regulatory loop. Taken together, our data suggest that the miR171-SCL module is critical for mediating GA-DELLA signaling in the coordinate regulation of chlorophyll biosynthesis and leaf growth in light.
Water is crucial to plant growth and development. Environmental water deficiency triggers an osmotic stress signalling cascade, which induces short-term cellular responses to reduce water loss and long-term responses to remodel the transcriptional network and physiological and developmental processes1, 2, 3, 4. Several signalling components that have been identified by extensive genetic screens for altered sensitivities to osmotic stress seem to function downstream of the perception of osmotic stress. It is known that hyperosmolality and various other stimuli trigger increases in cytosolic free calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i)5, 6. Considering that in bacteria and animals osmosensing Ca2+ channels serve as osmosensors7, 8, hyperosmolality-induced [Ca2+]iincreases have been widely speculated to be involved in osmosensing in plants1, 9. However, the molecular nature of corresponding Ca2+ channels remain unclear6, 10, 11. Here we describe a hyperosmolality-gated calcium-permeable channel and its function in osmosensing in plants. Using calcium-imaging-based unbiased forward genetic screens we isolated Arabidopsis mutants that exhibit low hyperosmolality-induced [Ca2+]i increases. These mutants were rescreened for their cellular, physiological and developmental responses to osmotic stress, and those with clear combined phenotypes were selected for further physical mapping. One of the mutants, reduced hyperosmolality-induced [Ca2+]i increase 1 (osca1), displays impaired osmotic Ca2+ signalling in guard cells and root cells, and attenuated water transpiration regulation and root growth in response to osmotic stress. OSCA1 is identified as a previously unknown plasma membrane protein and forms hyperosmolality-gated calcium-permeable channels, revealing that OSCA1 may be an osmosensor. OSCA1 represents a channel responsible for [Ca2+]i increases induced by a stimulus in plants, opening up new avenues for studying Ca2+ machineries for other stimuli and providing potential molecular genetic targets for engineering drought-resistant crops.
Mingsheng Chen, Klaus Mayer, Steve Rounsley, Rod Wing and colleagues report the genome sequence of African rice (Oryza glaberrima), a different species than Asian rice. The authors resequenced 20 O. glaberrima accessions and 94 Oryza barthii accessions (the putative progenitor species of O. glaberrima), and their analyses support the hypothesis that O. glaberrima was domesticated in a single region along the upper Niger river.
Gene co-expression analysis has been widely used for predicting gene functions because genes within modules of a co-expression network may be involved in similar biological processes and exhibit similar biological functions. To detect gene relationships in the grapevine genome, we constructed a grapevine gene co-expression network (GGCN) by compiling a total of 374 publically available grapevine microarray datasets. The GGCN consisted of 557 modules containing a total of 3834 nodes with 13 479 edges. The functions of the subnetwork modules were inferred by Gene ontology (GO) enrichment analysis. In 127 of the 557 modules containing two or more GO terms, 38 modules exhibited the most significantly enriched GO terms, including ‘protein catabolism process’, ‘photosynthesis’, ‘cell biosynthesis process’, ‘biosynthesis of plant cell wall’, ‘stress response’ and other important biological processes. The ‘response to heat’ GO term was highly represented in module 17, which is composed of many heat shock proteins. To further determine the potential functions of genes in module 17, we performed a Pearson correlation coefficient test, analyzed orthologous relationships with Arabidopsis genes and established gene expression correlations with real-time quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR (qRT-PCR). Our results indicated that many genes in module 17 were upregulated during the heat shock and recovery processes and downregulated in response to low temperature. Furthermore, two putative genes, Vit_07s0185g00040 and Vit_02s0025g04060, were highly expressed in response to heat shock and recovery. This study provides insight into GGCN gene modules and offers important references for gene functions and the discovery of new genes at the module level.
Legume nodules are plant tissues with an exceptionally high concentration of phosphorus (P), which, when there is scarcity of P, is preferentially maintained there rather than being allocated to other plant organs. The hypothesis of this study was that nodules are affected before the P concentration in the organ declines during whole-plant P depletion. Nitrogen (N2) fixation and P concentration in various organs were monitored during a whole-plant P-depletion process in Medicago truncatula. Nodule gene expression was profiled through RNA-seq at day 5 of P depletion. Until that point in time P concentration in leaves reached a lower threshold but was maintained in nodules. N2-fixation activity per plant diverged from that of fully nourished plants beginning at day 5 of the P-depletion process, primarily because fewer nodules were being formed, while the activity of the existing nodules was maintained for as long as two weeks into P depletion. RNA-seq revealed nodule acclimation on a molecular level with a total of 1140 differentially expressed genes. Numerous genes for P remobilization from organic structures were increasingly expressed. Various genes involved in nodule malate formation were upregulated, while genes involved in fermentation were downregulated. The fact that nodule formation was strongly repressed with the onset of P deficiency is reflected in the differential expression of various genes involved in nodulation. It is concluded that plants follow a strategy to maintain N2 fixation and viable leaf tissue as long as possible during whole-plant P depletion to maintain their ability to react to emerging new P sources (e.g. through active P acquisition by roots).
In higher plants, roots acquire water and soil nutrients and transport these upwards to their aerial parts. These functions are closely related to their anatomical structure; water and nutrients entering the root first move radially through several concentric layers of the epidermis, cortex and endodermis before entering the central cylinder. The endodermis is the innermost cortical cell layer that features rings of hydrophobic cell wall material called the Casparian strips that functionally resemble tight junctions in animal epithelia. Nutrient uptake from the soil can occur through three different routes that can be interconnected in various ways: the apoplastic route (through the cell wall), the symplastic route (through cellular connections) and a “coupled trans-cellular” route (involving polarized influx and efflux carriers). This update aims to present recent advances in radial transport of nutrients highlighting the coupled trans-cellular pathway and the roles played by the endodermis as a barrier.
Mechanical stimulations play a significant role in the day to day existence of plants. Plants exhibit varied responses depending on the nature and intensity of these stimuli. In this review, we present recent literature on the responses of plants to mechanical stimuli, focusing primarily on those exerted during plant–microbe interactions. We discuss how microbes are able to apply mechanical stimuli on plants and how some plant responses to pathogenic and symbiotic microbes present striking similarities with responses to mechanical stimuli applied, for instance, using micro-needles. We hypothesize that appropriate responses of plants to pathogenic and symbiotic microbes may require a tight integration of both chemical and mechanical stimulations exerted by these microbes.
BackgroundThe fungus Stagonospora nodorum is a necrotrophic pathogen of wheat. It causes disease by secreting proteinaceous effectors which interact with proteins encoded by dominant susceptibility genes in the host. The outcome of these interactions results in necrosis, allowing the fungus to thrive on dead plant material. The mechanisms of these effectors though are poorly understood. In this study, we undertake a comprehensive transcriptomics, proteomic and metabolomic approach to understand how a susceptible wheat cultivar responds to exposure to the Stagonospora nodorum effector protein SnTox3.ResultsMicroarray and proteomic studies revealed that SnTox3 strongly induced responses consistent with those previously associated with classical host defence pathways including the expression of pathogenicity-related proteins and the induction of cell death. Collapse of the photosynthetic machinery was also apparent at the transcriptional and translational level. SnTox3-infiltrated wheat leaves also showed a strong induction of enzymes involved in primary metabolism consistent with increases in hexoses, amino acids and organic acids as determined by primary metabolite profiling. Methionine and homocysteine metabolism was strongly induced upon exposure to SnTox3. Pathogenicity in the presence of homocysteine was inhibited confirming that the compound has a role in plant defence. Consistent with the strong defence responses observed, secondary metabolite profiling revealed the induction of several compounds associated with plant defence, including the phenylpropanoids chlorogenic acid and feruloylquinic acid, and the cyanogenic glucoside dhurrin. Serotonin did not accumulate subsequent to SnTox3 infiltration.ConclusionsThese data support the theory that the SnTox3 effector protein elicits a host cell death response to facilitate the pathogen?s necrotrophic infection cycle. Our data also demonstrate that the mechanism of SnTox3 appears distinct from the previously characterised Stagonospora nodorum effector SnToxA. Collectively, this comprehensive analysis has advanced our understanding of necrotrophic effector biology and highlighted the complexity of effector-triggered susceptibility.
Jasmonates are lipid mediators that control defence gene expression in response to wounding and other environmental stresses. These small molecules can accumulate at distances up to several cm from sites of damage and this is likely to involve cell-to-cell jasmonate transport. Also, and independently of jasmonate synthesis, transport and perception, different long-distance wound signals that stimulate distal jasmonate synthesis are propagated at apparent speeds of several cm min–1 to tissues distal to wounds in a mechanism that involves clade 3 GLUTAMATE RECEPTOR-LIKE (GLR) genes. A search for jasmonate synthesis enzymes that might decode these signals revealed LOX6, a lipoxygenase that is necessary for much of the rapid accumulation of jasmonic acid at sites distal to wounds. Intriguingly, the LOX6 promoter is expressed in a distinct niche of cells that are adjacent to mature xylem vessels, a location that would make these contact cells sensitive to the release of xylem water column tension upon wounding. We propose a model in which rapid axial changes in xylem hydrostatic pressure caused by wounding travel through the vasculature and lead to slower, radially dispersed pressure changes that act in a clade 3 GLR-dependent mechanism to promote distal jasmonate synthesis.
•Current phylogenetic data do not support the existence of IAA biosynthesis in algae.•Plant Trp-dependent IAA biosynthesis has been shaped by gene transfer.•IAA biosynthesis in plants evolved in response to microbe–plant interactions.
The recent finding of the tryptophan aminotransferase (TAA)/flavin monooxygenase (YUC) pathway as the principal route of auxin production in plants provides an opportunity to revisit the origin of plant auxin biosynthesis. Phylogenetic analyses of the TAA and YUC gene families provide very little evidence for the production of indole-3-acetic acid (IAA) in algae. Instead, horizontal gene transfer of YUCs from bacteria to the ancestral land plant suggests that the TAA/YUC pathway is a land plant innovation. In this Opinion article we postulate that the origin of tryptophan-dependent IAA biosynthesis in land plants might have evolved in response to interactions with microbes, particularly bacteria, allowing plants to counteract bacterial activities and control their own auxin signaling.
•The RLK FERONIA regulates Ca2+ signaling in mechanically stimulated Arabidopsis•feronia (fer) mutants exhibit defective growth responses to mechanical perturbation•Root expansion profiles of fer mutants show pronounced spatiotemporal fluctuations
Among the myriad cues that constantly inform plant growth and development, mechanical forces are unique in that they are an intrinsic result of cellular turgor pressure and also imposed by the environment [ 1 ]. Although the key role of mechanical forces in shaping plant architecture from the cellular level to the level of organ formation is well established [ 1–4 ], the components of the early mechanical signal transduction machinery remain to be defined at the molecular level. Here, we show that an Arabidopsis mutant lacking the receptor-like kinase FERONIA (FER) shows severely altered Ca2+ signaling and growth responses to different forms of mechanical perturbation. Ca2+ signals are either abolished or exhibit qualitatively different signatures in feronia (fer) mutants exposed to local touch or bending stimulation. Furthermore, mechanically induced upregulation of known touch-responsive genes is significantly decreased in fer mutants. In addition to these defects in mechanical signaling, fer mutants also exhibit growth phenotypes consistent with impaired mechanical development, including biased root skewing, an inability to penetrate hard agar layers, and abnormal growth responses to impenetrable obstacles. Finally, high-resolution kinematic analysis of root growth revealed that fer mutants show pronounced spatiotemporal fluctuations in root cell expansion profiles with a timescale of minutes. Based on these results, we propose that FER is a key regulator of mechanical Ca2+ signaling and that FER-dependent mechanical signaling functions to regulate growth in response to external or intrinsic mechanical forces.
Although a small number of the vast array of animal long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) have known effects on cellular processes examined in vitro, the extent of their contributions to normal cell processes throughout development, differentiation and disease for the most part remains less clear. Phenotypes arising from deletion of an entire genomic locus cannot be unequivocally attributed either to the loss of the lncRNA per se or to the associated loss of other overlapping DNA regulatory elements. The distinction between cis- or trans-effects is also often problematic. We discuss the advantages and challenges associated with the current techniques for studying the in vivo function of lncRNAs in the light of different models of lncRNA molecular mechanism, and reflect on the design of experiments to mutate lncRNA loci. These considerations should assist in the further investigation of these transcriptional products of the genome. - See more at: http://elifesciences.org/content/3/e03058#sthash.Aw8kY4dB.dpuf