Comparative gene co-expression networks show enrichment of brassinosteroid and vitamin B processes in a seagrass under simulated ocean warming and extreme climatic events

Mitchell Booth, Elizabeth A. Sinclair, Maria Jung, Rachel Austin, Philipp Bayer, Siegfried L. Krauss, Martin F. Breed, Gary Kendrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Ocean warming combined with extreme climatic events, such as marine heatwaves and flash flooding events, threaten seagrasses globally. How seagrasses cope with these challenges is uncertain, particularly for range-edge populations of species such as Posidonia australis in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Analyzing gene expression while manipulating multiple stressors provides insight into the genetic response and resilience of seagrasses to climate change. We conducted a gene expression study on a polyploid clone of P. australis during an 18-week mesocosm experiment to assess the responses to single and combined future climate change-associated stressors.

Methods: Plants were exposed to (1) future ocean warming temperature (baseline +1.5°C) followed by a simulated marine heat wave (baseline +5.5°C), (2) light deprivation simulating observed marine heatwave driven turbidity (95% shade) at baseline temperatures, or (3) both stressors simultaneously. Basal leaf meristems were sampled for gene expression analysis using RNA-seq at four time points during the experiment. Weighted gene co-expression network analysis, GO term enrichment, and KEGG pathway enrichment analyses were used to identify stress responses.

Results: Shaded plants showed specific gene enrichment for shade avoidance (programmed cell death) after three weeks of stress, and before any heated tanks showed a specific heat response. Shaded plants were positively correlated with programmed cell death and stress-related processes at the end of the experiment. Once ocean warming temperatures (+1.5°C) were in effect, gene enrichment for heat stress (e.g., ROS scavenging and polyamine metabolism) was present. Vitamin B processes, RNA polymerase II processes. and light-related meristematic phase changes were expressed with the addition of simulated MHW. Heated plants showed meristematic growth signatures as well as trehalose and salicylic acid metabolism. Brassinosteroid-related processes were significantly enriched in all stressor treatments at all time points, except for the isolated heat-stressed plants three weeks after stressor initiation.

Discussion: Gene expression responses to the interaction between heat waves and turbidity-induced light reduction support the observed geographical scale mortality in seagrasses observed for P. australis in Shark Bay, suggesting that even this giant polyploid clone will be negatively impacted by more extreme climate change projections.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1309956
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2024

Cite this