Developing a Functional Genomics Approach to Berry Ripening and Defense

Our work with fruit ripening and defense related genes is now complete with regard to collecting EST sequences. With the ones we have already collected and the many thousands that are now planned in efforts on this campus and internationally we feel that it will be possible to clone nearly any grape gene we are interested in by application of sequence information and PCR methods. This means that studies where information about gene expression in grape is needed can be undertaken with confidence that most of the genes of interest can be easily cloned. Nevertheless, the picture that has emerged from our work with the veraison stage library is very informative and is a major research accomplishment and result.

We divided the EST sequences we obtained into three classes. Class one are genes for which the role in fruit development or ripening is already known in other systems (e.g. tomato). An example of class-one genes would be polygalacturonase. The second class includes those genes whose function can be known with a high degree of certainty but where its role in fruit development or ripening is unknown. An example of class-two genes would be a tonoplast intrinsic protein. The third class contains those genes that are unknown (a match was found in the data base but no function has been assigned to the protein) hypothetical proteins (e.g. an open reading frame from Arabidopsis) or no match (i.e. no match at all was found in the data base). In our total EST collection 34%of the genes were assigned to class 1; 44%to class 2; and 22%to class 3.

In order to provide a functional classification for the genes in class 1 and class 2 above, we assigned each gene to a functional category. The major group in the functional category contained genes related to stress responses; either oxidative, osmotic or water stress. We found that 22%of the genes were stress related and 20%were related to protein synthesis, processing and degradation. We found that 18%of the genes to which we could assign a function are related to disease resistance, and 8%involved with signal transduction. There were 9%related to RNA processing or were known transcription factors. Other groups with about 5%each were cell wall chemistry, secondary metabolism and photosynthesis.

The view of grape berry ripening that has emerged from our work is much different than we expected when we began to sequence ESTs from veraison berries. The large number of stress induced genes and disease related genes we found was surprising and unexpected. Nevertheless, this result has drawn our attention to the function of stress responses and plant defense gene expression in fruit ripening and berry composition.

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