Characterisation of the legume SERK-NIK gene superfamily including splice variants: Implications for development and defence

Nolan, Kim E.; Kurdyukov, Sergey; Rose, Ray J.
January 2011
BMC Plant Biology;2011, Vol. 11 Issue 1, p44
Academic Journal
Background: SOMATIC EMBRYOGENESIS RECEPTOR-LIKE KINASE (SERK) genes are part of the regulation of diverse signalling events in plants. Current evidence shows SERK proteins function both in developmental and defence signalling pathways, which occur in response to both peptide and steroid ligands. SERKs are generally present as small gene families in plants, with five SERK genes in Arabidopsis. Knowledge gained primarily through work on Arabidopsis SERKs indicates that these proteins probably interact with a wide range of other receptor kinases and form a fundamental part of many essential signalling pathways. The SERK1 gene of the model legume, Medicago truncatula functions in somatic and zygotic embryogenesis, and during many phases of plant development, including nodule and lateral root formation. However, other SERK genes in M. truncatula and other legumes are largely unidentified and their functions unknown. Results: To aid the understanding of signalling pathways in M. truncatula, we have identified and annotated the SERK genes in this species. Using degenerate PCR and database mining, eight more SERK-like genes have been identified and these have been shown to be expressed. The amplification and sequencing of several different PCR products from one of these genes is consistent with the presence of splice variants. Four of the eight additional genes identified are upregulated in cultured leaf tissue grown on embryogenic medium. The sequence information obtained from M. truncatula was used to identify SERK family genes in the recently sequenced soybean (Glycine max) genome. Conclusions: A total of nine SERK or SERK-like genes have been identified in M. truncatula and potentially 17 in soybean. Five M. truncatula SERK genes arose from duplication events not evident in soybean and Lotus. The presence of splice variants has not been previously reported in a SERK gene. Upregulation of four newly identified SERK genes (in addition to the previously described MtSERK1) in embryogenic tissue cultures suggests these genes also play a role in the process of somatic embryogenesis. The phylogenetic relationship of members of the SERK gene family to closely related genes, and to development and defence function is discussed.


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