Organisms in the wild are subject to multiple, fluctuating environmental factors, and it is in complex natural environments that genetic regulatory networks actually function and evolve. We assessed genome-wide gene expression patterns in the wild in two natural accessions of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and examined the nature of transcriptional variation throughout its life cycle and gene expression correlations with natural environmental fluctuations. We grew plants in a natural field environment and measured genome-wide time-series gene expression from the plant shoot every three days, spanning the seedling to reproductive stages. We find that 15,352 genes were expressed in the A. thaliana shoot in the field, and accession and flowering status (vegetative versus flowering) were strong components of transcriptional variation in this plant. We identified between ~110 and 190 time-varying gene expression clusters in the field, many of which were significantly overrepresented by genes regulated by abiotic and biotic environmental stresses. The two main principal components of vegetative shoot gene expression (PCveg) correlate to temperature and precipitation occurrence in the field. The largest PCveg axes included thermoregulatory genes while the second major PCveg was associated with precipitation and contained drought-responsive genes. By exposing A. thaliana to natural environments in an open field, we provide a framework for further understanding the genetic networks that are deployed in natural environments, and we connect plant molecular genetics in the laboratory to plant organismal ecology in the wild.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology
- Cancer Research