NAC transcription factors from Aegilops markgrafii reduce cadmium concentration in transgenic wheat

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Background and aims

Cadmium (Cd) is one of the heavy metal elements that are most harmful to human health, and the transmission of Cd through the food chain is a global issue. Aegilops markgrafii is a wild relative of the cultivated wheat that is tolerant of high levels of Cd. The objective of this study is to investigate the NAC transcription factors (TFs) involved in Cd tolerance in Ae. markgrafii and to verify their function in transgenic wheat.


We cloned NAC TFs from Ae. markgrafii plants exposed to excessive Cd treatment. The expression profiles of NAC TFs in root and shoot tissues were examined using qRT-PCR. Transgenic wheat was obtained via Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. Finally, we examined Cd concentrations in transgenic wheat under excess Cd treatment.


We identified three NAC TFs and classified them into four subfamilies. Sequence alignments showed that the NAC TFs had conserved N-terminal domains but varied C-terminal domains. Expression profiles of NAC TFs showed about 150-fold up-regulation in the transcription of AemNAC2 and AemNAC3 under excess Cd treatment. Overexpression of AemNAC2 in the wheat cultivar ‘Bobwhite’ led to reduce Cd concentration in the root, shoot and grains.


AemNAC2 is an important TF that contributes to Cd tolerance in wheat.

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This work was financed by the Natural Science Foundation of Guizhou Province (2019-1236), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31660390), the Foundation for Breeding Programs (2017YFD0100900), and the Achievements Transformation Program for Agriculture in Guizhou Province (Qiankehe Achievement 2016-4022).

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Correspondence to Mingjian Ren or Heng Tang.

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Du, X., He, F., Zhu, B. et al. NAC transcription factors from Aegilops markgrafii reduce cadmium concentration in transgenic wheat. Plant Soil (2020) doi:10.1007/s11104-019-04419-w

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  • Aegilops markgrafii
  • NAC transcription factor
  • Transgenic wheat
  • Cadmium tolerance