A comprehensive understanding of wheat responses to environmental stress will contribute to the long-term goal of feeding the planet. ALERNATIVE OXIDASE (AOX) genes encode proteins involved in a bypass of the electron transport chain and are also known to be involved in stress tolerance in multiple species. Here, we report the identification and characterization of the AOX gene family in diploid and hexaploid wheat. Four genes each were found in the diploid ancestors Triticum urartu, and Aegilops tauschii, and three in Aegilops speltoides. In hexaploid wheat (Triticum aestivum), 20 genes were identified, some with multiple splice variants, corresponding to a total of 24 proteins for those with observed transcription and translation. These proteins were classified as AOX1a, AOX1c, AOX1e or AOX1d via phylogenetic analysis. Proteins lacking most or all signature AOX motifs were assigned to putative regulatory roles. Analysis of protein-targeting sequences suggests mixed localization to the mitochondria and other organelles. In comparison to the most studied AOX from Trypanosoma brucei, there were amino acid substitutions at critical functional domains indicating possible role divergence in wheat or grasses in general. In hexaploid wheat, AOX genes were expressed at specific developmental stages as well as in response to both biotic and abiotic stresses such as fungal pathogens, heat and drought. These AOX expression patterns suggest a highly regulated and diverse transcription and expression system. The insights gained provide a framework for the continued and expanded study of AOX genes in wheat for stress tolerance through breeding new varieties, as well as resistance to AOX-targeted herbicides, all of which can ultimately be used synergistically to improve crop yield.
Journal: PloS one