BACKGROUND: Usually the reference genes used in gene expression analysis have been chosen for their known or suspected housekeeping roles, however the variation observed in most of them hinders their effective use. The assessed lack of validated reference genes emphasizes the importance of a systematic study for their identification. For selecting candidate reference genes we have developed a simple in silico method based on the data publicly available in the wheat databases Unigene and TIGR.
RESULTS: The expression stability of 32 genes was assessed by qRT-PCR using a set of cDNAs from 24 different plant samples, which included different tissues, developmental stages and temperature stresses. The selected sequences included 12 well-known HKGs representing different functional classes and 20 genes novel with reference to the normalization issue. The expression stability of the 32 candidate genes was tested by the computer programs geNorm and NormFinder using five different data-sets. Some discrepancies were detected in the ranking of the candidate reference genes, but there was substantial agreement between the groups of genes with the most and least stable expression. Three new identified reference genes appear more effective than the well-known and frequently used HKGs to normalize gene expression in wheat. Finally, the expression study of a gene encoding a PDI-like protein showed that its correct evaluation relies on the adoption of suitable normalization genes and can be negatively affected by the use of traditional HKGs with unstable expression, such as actin and alpha-tubulin.
CONCLUSION: The present research represents the first wide screening aimed to the identification of reference genes and of the corresponding primer pairs specifically designed for gene expression studies in wheat, in particular for qRT-PCR analyses. Several of the new identified reference genes outperformed the traditional HKGs in terms of expression stability under all the tested conditions. The new reference genes will enable more accurate normalization and quantification of gene expression in wheat and will be helpful for designing primer pairs targeting orthologous genes in other plant species.
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