Wheat is a widely grown food crop that suffers major yield losses due to attack by pests and pathogens. A better understanding of biotic stress responses in wheat is thus of major importance. The recently assembled bread wheat genome coupled with extensive transcriptomic resources provides unprecedented new opportunities to investigate responses to pathogen challenge. Here, we analyze gene coexpression networks to identify modules showing consistent induction in response to pathogen exposure. Within the top pathogen-induced modules, we identify multiple clusters of physically adjacent genes that correspond to six pathogen-induced biosynthetic pathways that share a common regulatory network. Functional analysis reveals that these pathways, all of which are encoded by biosynthetic gene clusters, produce various different classes of compounds—namely, flavonoids, diterpenes, and triterpenes, including the defense-related compound ellarinacin. Through comparative genomics, we also identify associations with the known rice phytoalexins momilactones, as well as with a defense-related gene cluster in the grass model plant Brachypodium distachyon. Our results significantly advance the understanding of chemical defenses in wheat and open up avenues for enhancing disease resistance in this agriculturally important crop. They also exemplify the power of transcriptional networks to discover the biosynthesis of chemical defenses in plants with large, complex genomes.
- natural products
- biosynthetic gene clusters