Modulation of R-gene expression across environments

Alice Macqueen, Joy Bergelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Some environments are more conducive to pathogen growth than others, and, as a consequence, plants might be expected to invest more in resistance when pathogen growth is favored. Resistance (R-) genes in Arabidopsis thaliana have unusually extensive variation in basal expression when comparing the same R-gene among accessions collected from different environments. R-gene expression variation was characterized to explore whether R-gene expression is up-regulated in environments favoring pathogen proliferation and down-regulated when risks of infection are low; down-regulation would follow if costs of R-gene expression negatively impact plant fitness in the absence of disease. Quantitative reverse transcription-PCR was used to quantify the expression of 13 R-gene loci in plants grown in eight environmental conditions for each of 12 A. thaliana accessions, and large effects of the environment on R-gene expression were found. Surprisingly, almost every change in the environment-be it a change in biotic or abiotic conditions-led to an increase in R-gene expression, a response that was distinct from the average transcriptome response and from that of other stress response genes. These changes in expression are functional in that environmental change prior to infection affected levels of specific disease resistance to isolates of Pseudomonas syringae. In addition, there are strong latitudinal clines in basal R-gene expression and clines in R-gene expression plasticity correlated with drought and high temperatures. These results suggest that variation in R-gene expression across environments may be shaped by natural selection to reduce fitness costs of R-gene expression in permissive or predictable environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2093-2105
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
Issue number7
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Arabidopsis thaliana
  • Climate
  • Disease resistance
  • Environmental stress
  • Gene expression
  • Natural variation
  • Plasticity
  • R-gene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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