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Plant Physiol. 2014 Jan;164(1):481-95. doi: 10.1104/pp.113.225862. Epub 2013 Nov 14.

Machine learning approaches distinguish multiple stress conditions using stress-responsive genes and identify candidate genes for broad resistance in rice.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan 49931.


Abiotic and biotic stress responses are traditionally thought to be regulated by discrete signaling mechanisms. Recent experimental evidence revealed a more complex picture where these mechanisms are highly entangled and can have synergistic and antagonistic effects on each other. In this study, we identified shared stress-responsive genes between abiotic and biotic stresses in rice (Oryza sativa) by performing meta-analyses of microarray studies. About 70% of the 1,377 common differentially expressed genes showed conserved expression status, and the majority of the rest were down-regulated in abiotic stresses and up-regulated in biotic stresses. Using dimension reduction techniques, principal component analysis, and partial least squares discriminant analysis, we were able to segregate abiotic and biotic stresses into separate entities. The supervised machine learning model, recursive-support vector machine, could classify abiotic and biotic stresses with 100% accuracy using a subset of differentially expressed genes. Furthermore, using a random forests decision tree model, eight out of 10 stress conditions were classified with high accuracy. Comparison of genes contributing most to the accurate classification by partial least squares discriminant analysis, recursive-support vector machine, and random forests revealed 196 common genes with a dynamic range of expression levels in multiple stresses. Functional enrichment and coexpression network analysis revealed the different roles of transcription factors and genes responding to phytohormones or modulating hormone levels in the regulation of stress responses. We envisage the top-ranked genes identified in this study, which highly discriminate abiotic and biotic stresses, as key components to further our understanding of the inherently complex nature of multiple stress responses in plants.

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