Single-cell transcriptomic analysis of pea shoot development and cell-type-specific responses to boron deficiency

Chen X, Ru Y, Takahashi H, Nakazono M, Shabala S, Smith SM and Yu M

The Plant Journal


Understanding how nutrient stress impacts plant growth is fundamentally important to the development of approaches to improve crop production under nutrient limitation. Here we applied single-cell RNA sequencing to shoot apices of Pisum sativum grown under boron (B) deficiency. We identified up to 15 cell clusters based on the clustering of gene expression profiles and verified cell identity with cell-type-specific marker gene expression. Different cell types responded differently to B deficiency. Specifically, the expression of photosynthetic genes in mesophyll cells (MCs) was down-regulated by B deficiency, consistent with impaired photosynthetic rate. Furthermore, the down-regulation of stomatal development genes in guard cells, including homologs of MUTE and TOO MANY MOUTHS, correlated with a decrease in stomatal density under B deficiency. We also constructed the developmental trajectory of the shoot apical meristem (SAM) cells and a transcription factor interaction network. The developmental progression of SAM to MC was characterized by up-regulation of genes encoding histones and chromatin assembly and remodeling proteins including homologs of FASCIATA1 (FAS1) and SWITCH DEFECTIVE/SUCROSE NON-FERMENTABLE (SWI/SNF) complex. However, B deficiency suppressed their expression, which helps to explain impaired SAM development under B deficiency. These results represent a major advance over bulk-tissue RNA-seq analysis in which cell-type-specific responses are lost and hence important physiological responses to B deficiency are missed. The reported findings reveal strategies by which plants adapt to B deficiency thus offering breeders a set of specific targets for genetic improvement. The reported approach and resources have potential applications well beyond P. sativum species and could be applied to various legumes to improve their adaptability to multiple nutrient or abiotic stresses.