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BMC Genomics. 2013 May 23;14:344. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-14-344.

Genomic and expression analysis of the flax (Linum usitatissimum) family of glycosyl hydrolase 35 genes.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E9, Canada.



Several β-galactosidases of the Glycosyl Hydrolase 35 (GH35) family have been characterized, and many of these modify cell wall components, including pectins, xyloglucans, and arabinogalactan proteins. The phloem fibres of flax (Linum usitatissimum) have gelatinous-type cell walls that are rich in crystalline cellulose and depend on β-galactosidase activity for their normal development. In this study, we investigate the transcript expression patterns and inferred evolutionary relationships of the complete set of flax GH35 genes, to better understand the functions of these genes in flax and other species.


Using the recently published flax genome assembly, we identified 43 β-galactosidase-like (BGAL) genes, based on the presence of a GH35 domain. Phylogenetic analyses of their protein sequences clustered them into eight sub-families. Sub-family B, whose members in other species were known to be expressed in developing flowers and pollen, was greatly under represented in flax (p-value < 0.01). Sub-family A5, whose sole member from arabidopsis has been described as its primary xyloglucan BGAL, was greatly expanded in flax (p-value < 0.01). A number of flax BGALs were also observed to contain non-consensus GH35 active sites. Expression patterns of the flax BGALs were investigated using qRT-PCR and publicly available microarray data. All predicted flax BGALs showed evidence of expression in at least one tissue.


Flax has a large number of BGAL genes, which display a distinct distribution among the BGAL sub-families, in comparison to other closely related species with available whole genome assemblies. Almost every flax BGAL was expressed in fibres, the majority of which expressed predominately in fibres as compared to other tissues, suggesting an important role for the expansion of this gene family in the development of this species as a fibre crop. Variations displayed in the canonical GH35 active site suggest a variety of roles unique to flax, which will require further characterization.

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