WRKY transcription factors constitute a large protein superfamily with a predominant role in plant stress responses. In this study we report that two structurally related soybean WRKY proteins, GmWRKY58 and GmWRKY76, play a critical role in plant growth and flowering. GmWRKY58 and GmWRKY76 are both Group III WRKY proteins with a C2HC zinc fin-ger domain and are close homologs of AtWRKY70 and AtWRKY54, two well-characterized Arabidopsis WRKY proteins with an important role in plant responses to biotic and abiotic stresses. GmWRKY58 and GmWRKY76 are both localized to the nucleus, recognize the TTGACC W-box sequence with a high specificity, and function as transcriptional activators in both yeast and plant cells. Expression of GmWRKY58 and GmWRKY76 was detected at low levels in roots, stem, leaves, flowers, and pods. Expression of the two genes in leaves increased substantially during the first 4 weeks after germina-tion but steadily declined thereafter with increased age. To determine their biological functions, transgenic Arabidopsis plants were generated overexpressing GmWRKY58 or GmWRKY76. Unlike AtWRKY70 and AtWRKY54, overexpression of GmWRKY58 or GmWRKY76 had no effect on disease resistance and only small effects on abiotic stress tolerance of the transgenic plants. Significantly, transgenic Arabidopsis plants overexpressing GmWRKY58 or GmWRKY76 flowered substantially earlier than control plants and this early flowering phenotype was associated with increased expression of several flowering-promoting genes, some of which are enriched in W-box sequences in their promoters recognized by GmWRKY58 and GmWRKY76. In addition, virus-induced silencing of GmWRKY58 and GmWRKY76 in soybean resulted in stunted plants with reduced leaf expansion and terminated stem growth. These results provide strong evidence for functional divergence among close structural homologs of WRKY proteins from different plant species.
Yang, Y., Chi, Y., Wang, Z., Zhou, Y., Fan, B., & Chen, Z. (2016). Functional analysis of structurally related soybean GmWRKY58 and GmWRKY76 in plant growth and development. Journal of Experimental Botany, 67(15), 4727–4742. https://doi.org/10.1093/jxb/erw252