A comparison of shared patterns of differential gene expression and gene ontologies in response to water-stress in roots and leaves of four diverse genotypes of Lolium and Festuca spp. temperate pasture grasses

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Ryegrasses (Lolium spp.) and fescues (Festuca spp.) are closely related and widely cultivated perennial forage grasses. As such, resilience in the face of abiotic stresses is an important component of their traits. We have compared patterns of differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in roots and leaves of two perennial ryegrass genotypes and a single genotype of each of a festulolium (predominantly Italian ryegrass) and meadow fescue with the onset of water stress, focussing on overall patterns of DEGs and gene ontology terms (GOs) shared by all four genotypes. Plants were established in a growing medium of vermiculite watered with nutrient solution. Leaf and root material were sampled at 35% (saturation) and, as the medium dried, at 15%, 5% and 1% estimated water contents (EWCs) and RNA extracted. Differential gene expression was evaluated comparing the EWC sampling points from RNAseq data using a combination of analysis methods. For all genotypes, the greatest numbers of DEGs were identified in the 35/1 and 5/1 comparisons in both leaves and roots. In total, 566 leaf and 643 root DEGs were common to all 4 genotypes, though a third of these leaf DEGs were not regulated in the same up/down direction in all 4 genotypes. For roots, the equivalent figure was 1% of the DEGs. GO terms shared by all four genotypes were often enriched by both up- and down-regulated DEGs in the leaf, whereas generally, only by either up- or down-regulated DEGs in the root. Overall, up-regulated leaf DEGs tended to be more genotype-specific than down-regulated leaf DEGs or root DEGs and were also associated with fewer GOs. On average, only 5-15% of the DEGs enriching common GO terms were shared by all 4 genotypes, suggesting considerable variation in DEGs between related genotypes in enacting similar biological processes.