Water stress limits plant survival and production in many parts of the world. Identification of genes and alleles responding to water stress conditions is important in breeding plants better adapted to drought. Currently there are no studies examining the transcriptome wide gene and allelic expression patterns under water stress conditions. We used RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) to identify the candidate genes and alleles and to explore the evolutionary signatures of selection.
We studied the effect of water stress on gene expression in Eucalyptus camaldulensis seedlings derived from three natural populations. We used reference-guided transcriptome mapping to study gene expression. Several genes showed differential expression between control and stress conditions. Gene ontology (GO) enrichment tests revealed up-regulation of 140 stress-related gene categories and down-regulation of 35 metabolic and cell wall organisation gene categories. More than 190,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were detected and 2794 of these showed differential allelic expression. Allelic expression of 52% of these variants was correlated with total gene expression. Signatures of selection patterns were studied by estimating the proportion of nonsynonymous to synonymous substitution rates (Ka/Ks). The average Ka/Ks ratio among the 13,719 genes was 0.39 indicating that most of the genes are under purifying selection. Among the positively selected genes (Ka/Ks > 1.5) apoptosis and cell death categories were enriched. Of the positively selected genes, ninety genes showed differential expression and 27 SNPs from 17 positively selected genes showed differential allelic expression between treatments.
Correlation of allelic expression of several SNPs with total gene expression indicates that these variants may be the cis-acting variants or in linkage disequilibrium with such variants. Enrichment of apoptosis and cell death gene categories among the positively selected genes reveals the past selection pressures experienced by the populations used in this study..