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BMC Genomics. 2012 Jun 15;13:247. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-13-247.

Use of mRNA-seq to discriminate contributions to the transcriptome from the constituent genomes of the polyploid crop species Brassica napus.

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John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, UK.



Polyploidy often results in considerable changes in gene expression, both immediately and over evolutionary time. New phenotypes often arise with polyploid formation and may contribute to the fitness of polyploids in nature or their selection for use in agriculture. Oilseed rape (Brassica napus) is widely used to study the process of polyploidy both in artificially resynthesised and natural forms. mRNA-Seq, a recently developed approach to transcriptome profiling using deep-sequencing technologies is an alternative to microarrays for the study of gene expression in a polyploid.


Illumina mRNA-Seq is comparable to microarray analysis for transcript quantification but has increased sensitivity and, very importantly, the potential to distinguish between homoeologous genes in polyploids. Using a novel curing process, we adapted a reference sequence that was a consensus derived from ESTs from both Brassica A and C genomes to one containing separate A and C genome versions for each of the 94,558 original unigenes. We aligned reads from B. napus to this cured reference, finding 38% more reads mapping from resynthesised lines and 28% more reads mapping from natural lines. Where the A and C versions differed at single nucleotide positions, termed inter-homoeologue polymorphisms (IHPs), we were able to apportion expression in the polyploid between the A and C genome homoeologues. 43,761 unigenes contained at least one IHP, with a mean frequency of 10.5 per kb unigene sequence. 6,350 of the unigenes with IHPs were differentially expressed between homoeologous gene pairs in resynthesised B. napus. 3,212 unigenes showed a similar pattern of differential expression across a range of natural B. napus crop varieties and, of these, 995 were in common with resynthesised B. napus. Functional classification showed over-representation in gene ontology categories not associated with dosage-sensitivity.


mRNA-Seq is the method of choice for measuring transcript abundance in polyploids due to its ability to measure the contributions of homoeologues to gene expression. The identification of large numbers of differentially expressed genes in both a newly resynthesised polyploid and natural B. napus confirms that there are both immediate and long-term alterations in the expression of homoeologous gene pairs following polyploidy.

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