Background: Iron is one of fourteen mineral elements required for proper plant growth and development of soybean (Glycine max L. Merr.). Soybeans grown on calcareous soils, which are prevalent in the upper Midwest of the United States, often exhibit symptoms indicative of iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC). Yield loss has a positive linear correlation with increasing severity of chlorotic symptoms. As soybean is an important agronomic crop, it is essential to understand the genetics and physiology of traits affecting plant yield. Soybean cultivars vary greatly in their ability to respond successfully to iron deficiency stress. Microarray analyses permit the identification of genes and physiological processes involved in soybean's response to iron stress. Results: RNA isolated from the roots of two near isogenic lines, which differ in iron efficiency, PI 548533 (Clark; iron efficient) and PI 547430 (IsoClark; iron inefficient), were compared on a spotted microarray slide containing 9,728 cDNAs from root specific EST libraries. A comparison of RNA transcripts isolated from plants grown under iron limiting hydroponic conditions for two weeks revealed 43 genes as differentially expressed. A single linkage clustering analysis of these 43 genes showed 57% of them possessed high sequence similarity to known stress induced genes. A control experiment comparing plants grown under adequate iron hydroponic conditions showed no differences in gene expression between the two near isogenic lines. Expression levels of a subset of the differentially expressed genes were also compared by real time reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR). The RT-PCR experiments confirmed differential expression between the iron efficient and iron inefficient plants for 9 of 10 randomly chosen genes examined. To gain further insight into the iron physiological status of the plants, the root iron reductase activity was measured in both iron efficient and inefficient genotypes for plants grown under iron sufficient and iron limited conditions. Iron inefficient plants failed to respond to decreased iron availability with increased activity of Fe reductase. Conclusion: These experiments have identified genes involved in the soybean iron deficiency chlorosis response under iron deficient conditions. Single linkage cluster analysis suggests iron limited soybeans mount a general stress response as well as a specialized iron deficiency stress response. Root membrane bound reductase capacity is often correlated with iron efficiency. Under iron-limited conditions, the iron efficient plant had high root bound membrane reductase capacity while the iron inefficient plants reductase levels remained low, further limiting iron uptake through the root. Many of the genes up-regulated in the iron inefficient NIL are involved in known stress induced pathways. The most striking response of the iron inefficient genotype to iron deficiency stress was the induction of a profusion of signaling and regulatory genes, presumably in an attempt to establish and maintain cellular homeostasis. Genes were up-regulated that point toward an increased transport of molecules through membranes. Genes associated with reactive oxidative species and an ROS-defensive enzyme were also induced. The up-regulation of genes involved in DNA repair and RNA stability reflect the inhospitable cellular environment resulting from iron deficiency stress. Other genes were induced that are involved in protein and lipid catabolism; perhaps as an effort to maintain carbon flow and scavenge energy. The under-expression of a key glycolitic gene may result in the iron-inefficient genotype being energetically challenged to maintain a stable cellular environment. These experiments have identified candidate genes and processes for further experimentation to increase our understanding of soybeans' response to iron deficiency stress.
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