Temporal transcriptome profiling of developing seeds reveals a concerted gene regulation in relation to oil accumulation in Pongamia (Millettia pinnata).
Background: Pongamia (Millettia pinnata syn. Pongamia pinnata), an oilseed legume species, is emerging as potential feedstock for sustainable biodiesel production. Breeding Pongamia for favorable traits in commercial application will rely on a comprehensive understanding of molecular mechanism regulating oil accumulation during its seed development. To date, only limited genomic or transcript sequences are available for Pongamia, while a temporal transcriptome profiling of developing seeds is still lacking in this species. Results: In this work, we conducted a time-series analysis of morphological and physiological characters, oil contents and compositions, as well as global gene expression profiles in developing Pongamia seeds. Firstly, three major developmental phases were characterized based on the combined evidences from embryonic shape, seed weight, seed moisture content, and seed color. Then, the gene expression levels at these three phases were quantified by RNA-Seq analyses with three biological replicates from each phase. Nearly 94% of unigenes were expressed at all three phases, whereas only less than 2% of unigenes were exclusively expressed at one of these phases. A total of 8881 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were identified between phases. Furthermore, the qRTPCR analyses for 10 DEGs involved in lipid metabolism demonstrated a good reliability of our RNA-Seq data in temporal gene expression profiling. We observed a dramatic increase in seed oil content from the embryogenesis phase to the early seed-filling phase, followed by a steady and moderate increase towards the maximum at the desiccation phase. We proposed that a highly active expression of most genes related to fatty acid (FA) and triacylglycerol (TAG) biosynthesis at the embryogenesis phase might trigger both the substantial oil accumulation and the membrane lipid synthesis for rapid cell proliferation at this phase, while a concerted reactivation of TAG synthesis-related genes at the desiccation phase might further promote storage lipid synthesis to achieve the maximum content of seed oils. Conclusions: This study not only built a bridge between gene expression profiles and oil accumulation in developing seeds, but also laid a foundation for future attempts on genetic engineering of Pongamia varieties to acquire higher oil yield or improved oil properties for biofuel applications.