Plant Science Innovation, Center for


Date of this Version



Lai et al. BMC Genomics (2020) 21:428


The Author(s). 2020


Background: The circadian clock drives endogenous 24-h rhythms that allow organisms to adapt and prepare for predictable and repeated changes in their environment throughout the day-night (diurnal) cycle. Many components of the circadian clock in Arabidopsis thaliana have been functionally characterized, but comparatively little is known about circadian clocks in grass species including major crops like maize and sorghum.

Results: Comparative research based on protein homology and diurnal gene expression patterns suggests the function of some predicted clock components in grasses is conserved with their Arabidopsis counterparts, while others have diverged in function. Our analysis of diurnal gene expression in three panicoid grasses sorghum, maize, and foxtail millet revealed conserved and divergent evolution of expression for core circadian clock genes and for the overall transcriptome. We find that several classes of core circadian clock genes in these grasses differ in copy number compared to Arabidopsis, but mostly exhibit conservation of both protein sequence and diurnal expression pattern with the notable exception of maize paralogous genes. We predict conserved cis-regulatory motifs shared between maize, sorghum, and foxtail millet through identification of diurnal co-expression clusters for a subset of 27,196 orthologous syntenic genes. In this analysis, a Cochran– Mantel–Haenszel based method to control for background variation identified significant enrichment for both expected and novel 6–8 nucleotide motifs in the promoter regions of genes with shared diurnal regulation predicted to function in common physiological activities.

Conclusions: This study illustrates the divergence and conservation of circadian clocks and diurnal regulatory networks across syntenic orthologous genes in panacoid grass species. Further, conserved local regulatory sequences contribute to the architecture of these diurnal regulatory networks that produce conserved patterns of diurnal gene expression.