BACKGROUND: Litchi (Litchi chinensis Sonn.) is one of the most important fruit trees cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas. However, a lack of transcriptomic and genomic information hinders our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying fruit set and fruit development in litchi. Shading during early fruit development decreases fruit growth and induces fruit abscission. Here, high-throughput RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) was employed for the de novo assembly and characterization of the fruit transcriptome in litchi, and differentially regulated genes, which are responsive to shading, were also investigated using digital transcript abundance(DTA)profiling.
RESULTS: More than 53 million paired-end reads were generated and assembled into 57,050 unigenes with an average length of 601 bp. These unigenes were annotated by querying against various public databases, with 34,029 unigenes found to be homologous to genes in the NCBI GenBank database and 22,945 unigenes annotated based on known proteins in the Swiss-Prot database. In further orthologous analyses, 5,885 unigenes were assigned with one or more Gene Ontology terms, 10,234 hits were aligned to the 24 Clusters of Orthologous Groups classifications and 15,330 unigenes were classified into 266 Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes pathways. Based on the newly assembled transcriptome, the DTA profiling approach was applied to investigate the differentially expressed genes related to shading stress. A total of 3.6 million and 3.5 million high-quality tags were generated from shaded and non-shaded libraries, respectively. As many as 1,039 unigenes were shown to be significantly differentially regulated. Eleven of the 14 differentially regulated unigenes, which were randomly selected for more detailed expression comparison during the course of shading treatment, were identified as being likely to be involved in the process of fruitlet abscission in litchi.
CONCLUSIONS: The assembled transcriptome of litchi fruit provides a global description of expressed genes in litchi fruit development, and could serve as an ideal repository for future functional characterization of specific genes. The DTA analysis revealed that more than 1000 differentially regulated unigenes respond to the shading signal, some of which might be involved in the fruitlet abscission process in litchi, shedding new light on the molecular mechanisms underlying organ abscission.
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