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Interspecific variance of molecular response to external pH conditions in two Rhododendron species

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Soil acidification has been widely recognized as a server environmental issue. Acid soil causes hazards to plant species’ development, growth and also the yield of crop through the world. Rhododendron species have been demonstrated to prefer to grow in acid soil. However, the molecular-response mechanism of Rhododendron seedlings and their interspecific variance to different pH conditions remains unclear. Herein, we compared the response of R. decorum and R. griersonianum to different pH treatments through physiological indicators, transcriptome analysis, and weighted gene co-expression network analysis. We found that the physiological and biochemical traits and DEG numbers indicted that the narrow-ranging species R. griersonianum was more sensitive to pH conditions than R. decorum. Photosynthesis and starch and sucrose metabolism shared significant enrichment pathways in R. griersonianum and R. decorum. However, differences in gene-expression patterns related to these pathways existed in response to pH treatments. Furthermore, several unique enriched pathways and expression patterns were identified between both species. Specifically, the genes involved in porphyrin and chlorophyll metabolism, carotenoid biosynthesis, carbon fixation in photosynthetic organisms, and photorespiration were highly expressed at pH 4.5 and 5.5 in R. griersonianum. Meanwhile, genes related to brassinosteroids, galactose metabolism, phenylpropanoids, and flavonoid biosynthesis were identified in R. decorum. This finding implied the different strategies of Rhododendron species during response and adaptation to soil pH conditions. The present study provided new insights to understand the molecular mechanisms of woody plant adaptation to acidic environment.

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Data availability

Transcriptome sequencing data are available in the SRA database of National Center for Biotechnology Information under the accession number of PRJNA798217.


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This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (32360099), the Science and Technology Development Fund of Guidance from the Central Government to Locals in Yunnan Province (202207AB110016), Major Program for Basic Research Project of Yunnan Province (202101BC070002).

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Xiong-Li Zhou, Ni-Fei Dai, Shi-Kang Shen collected plant materials. Xiong-Li Zhou, Si-Qi Wang, Ni-Fei Dai, Shi-Kang Shen performed the experiments, analyzed the data. Xiong-Li Zhou, Si-Qi Wang and Shi-Kang Shen wrote the manuscript. Shi-Kang Shen designed and supervised the study, and also revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Shi-Kang Shen.

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The seeds samples of R. griersonianum and R. decorum used in this study were collected from the trees grown at Tengchong City, Yunnan Province. Collection of plant materials complied with the institutional, national and international guidelines. No specific permits were required.

According to Flora of China, Shi-Kang Shen and Xiong-Li Zhou undertook the formal identification, and voucher specimen of this material has been deposited in a Yunnan University herbarium (YUKU02074718 and YUKU 02074719).

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The authors have no conflict of interests to declare.

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Responsible Editor: Chao-Feng Huang.

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Zhou, XL., Wang, SQ., Dai, NF. et al. Interspecific variance of molecular response to external pH conditions in two Rhododendron species. Plant Soil (2024).

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