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Linking genes of unknown function with abiotic stress responses by high-throughput phenotype screening

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e-mail: ron.mittler@unt.edu

Abstract

Over 13% of all genes in the Arabidopsis thaliana genome encode for proteins classified as having a completely unknown function, with the function of >30% of the Arabidopsis proteome poorly characterized. Although empirical data in the form of mRNA and proteome profiling experiments suggest that many of these proteins play an important role in different biological processes, their functional characterization remains one of the major challenges in modern biology. To expand the annotation of genes with unknown function involved in the response of Arabidopsis to different environmental stress conditions, we selected 1007 such genes and tested the response of their corresponding homozygous T-DNA insertional mutants to salinity, oxidative, osmotic, heat, cold and hypoxia stresses. Depending on the specific abiotic stresses tested, 12–31% of mutants had an altered stress-response phenotype. Interestingly, 832 out of 1007 mutants showed tolerance or sensitivity to more than one abiotic stress treatment, suggesting that genes of unknown function could play an important role in abiotic stress-response signaling, or general acclimation mechanisms. Further analysis of multiple stress-response phenotypes within different populations of mutants revealed interesting links between acclimation to heat, cold and oxidative stresses, as well as between sensitivity to ABA, osmotic, salinity, oxidative and hypoxia stresses. Our findings provide a significant contribution to the biological characterization of genes with unknown function in Arabidopsis and demonstrate that many of these genes play a key role in the response of plants to abiotic stresses.

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