• Open Access

The overexpression of OsNAC9 alters the root architecture of rice plants enhancing drought resistance and grain yield under field conditions


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Drought conditions limit agricultural production by preventing crops from reaching their genetically predetermined maximum yields. Here, we present the results of field evaluations of rice overexpressing OsNAC9, a member of the rice NAC domain family. Root-specific (RCc3) and constitutive (GOS2) promoters were used to overexpress OsNAC9 and produced the transgenic RCc3:OsNAC9 and GOS2:OsNAC9 plants. Field evaluations over two cultivating seasons showed that grain yields of the RCc3:OsNAC9 and the GOS2:OsNAC9 plants were increased by 13%–18% and 13%–32% under normal conditions, respectively. Under drought conditions, RCc3:OsNAC9 plants showed an increased grain yield of 28%–72%, whilst the GOS2:OsNAC9 plants remained unchanged. Both transgenic lines exhibited altered root architecture involving an enlarged stele and aerenchyma. The aerenchyma of RCc3:OsNAC9 roots was enlarged to a greater extent than those of GOS2:OsNAC9 and non-transgenic (NT) roots, suggesting the importance of this phenotype for enhanced drought resistance. Microarray experiments identified 40 up-regulated genes by more than threefold (< 0.01) in the roots of both transgenic lines. These included 9-cis-epoxycarotenoid dioxygenase, an ABA biosynthesis gene, calcium-transporting ATPase, a component of the Ca2+ signalling pathway involved in cortical cell death and aerenchyma formation, cinnamoyl CoA reductase 1, a gene involved in lignin biosynthesis, and wall-associated kinases¸ genes involved in cell elongation and morphogenesis. Interestingly, O-methyltransferase, a gene necessary for barrier formation, was specifically up-regulated only in the RCc3:OsNAC9 roots. Such up-regulated genes that are commonly and specifically up-regulated in OsNAC9 transgenic roots may account for the altered root architecture conferring increased drought resistance phenotype.