Agronomy and Horticulture Department



Brian M. Waters

Date of this Version



To appear in Functional and Integrative Genomics


U.S. Government Work


Switchgrass flag leaves can be expected to be a source of carbon to the plant, and its senescence is likely to impact the remobilization of nutrients from the shoots to the rhizomes. However, many genes have not been assigned a function in specific stages of leaf development. Here, we characterized gene expression in flag leaves over their development. By merging changes in leaf chlorophyll and the expression of genes for chlorophyll biosynthesis and degradation, a four-phase molecular roadmap for switchgrass flag leaf ontogeny was developed. Genes associated with early leaf development were up-regulated in phase 1. Phase 2 leaves had increased expression of genes for chlorophyll biosynthesis and those needed for full leaf function. Phase 3 coincided with the most active phase for leaf C and N assimilation. Phase 4 was associated with the onset of senescence, as observed by declining leaf chlorophyll content, a significant up-regulation in transcripts coding for enzymes involved with chlorophyll degradation, and in a large number of senescence-associated genes. Of considerable interest were switchgrass NAC transcription factors with significantly higher expression in senescing flag leaves. Two of these transcription factors were closely related to a wheat NAC gene that impacts mineral remobilization. The third switchgrass NAC factor was orthologous to an Arabidopsis gene with a known role in leaf senescence. Other genes coding for nitrogen and mineral utilization, including ureide, ammonium, nitrate, and molybdenum transporters, shared expression profiles that were significantly co-regulated with the expression profiles of the three NAC transcription factors. These data provide a good starting point to link shoot senescence to the onset of dormancy in field-grown switchgrass.