Comprehensive analysis and identification of drought-responsive candidate NAC genes in three semi-arid tropics (SAT) legume crops
Background: Chickpea, pigeonpea, and groundnut are the primary legume crops of semi-arid tropics (SAT) and their global productivity is severely affected by drought stress. The plant-specific NAC (NAM – no apical meristem, ATAF – Arabidopsis transcription activation factor, and CUC – cup-shaped cotyledon) transcription factor family is known to be involved in majority of abiotic stresses, especially in the drought stress tolerance mechanism. Despite the knowledge available regarding NAC function, not much information is available on NAC genes in SAT legume crops. Results: In this study, genome-wide NAC proteins – 72, 96, and 166 have been identified from the genomes of chickpea, pigeonpea, and groundnut, respectively, and later grouped into 10 clusters in chickpea and pigeonpea, while 12 clusters in groundnut. Phylogeny with well-known stress-responsive NACs in Arabidopsis thaliana, Oryza sativa (rice), Medicago truncatula, and Glycine max (soybean) enabled prediction of putative stress-responsive NACs in chickpea (22), pigeonpea (31), and groundnut (33). Transcriptome data revealed putative stress-responsive NACs at various developmental stages that showed differential expression patterns in the different tissues studied. Quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) was performed to validate the expression patterns of selected stressresponsive, Ca_NAC (Cicer arietinum – 14), Cc_NAC (Cajanus cajan – 15), and Ah_NAC (Arachis hypogaea – 14) genes using drought-stressed and well-watered root tissues from two contrasting drought-responsive genotypes of each of the three legumes. Based on expression analysis, Ca_06899, Ca_18090, Ca_22941, Ca_04337, Ca_04069, Ca_04233, Ca_12660, Ca_16379, Ca_16946, and Ca_21186; Cc_26125, Cc_43030, Cc_43785, Cc_43786, Cc_22429, and Cc_22430; Ah_ann1.G1V3KR.2, Ah_ann1.MI72XM.2, Ah_ann1.V0X4SV.1, Ah_ann1.FU1JML.2, and Ah_ann1.8AKD3R.1 were identified as potential drought stress-responsive candidate genes.