Research Highlights: Phenotypic changes and expression profiles, phylogeny, conserved motifs, and expression correlations of NAC (NAM, ATAF1, ATAF2 and CUC2) transcription factors (TFs) in blueberry genome were detected under drought stress, and the expression patterns and functions of 12 NACs were analyzed. Background and Objectives: Blueberry is an important shrub species with a high level of flavonoids in fruit, which are implicated in a broad range of health benefits. However, the molecular mechanism of this shrub species in response to drought stress still remains elusive. NAC TFs widely participate in stress tolerance in many plant species. The characterization and expression profiles of NAC TFs were analyzed on the basis of genome data in blueberry when subjected to drought stress. Materials and Methods: Combined with the analysis of chlorophyll a fluorescence and endogenous phytohormones, the phenotypic changes of blueberry under drought stress were observed. The phylogenetic tree, conserved motifs, differently expressed genes, and expression correlation were determined by means of multiple bioinformatics analysis. The expression profiles of NACs in different organs were examined and compared through RNA-seq and qRT-PCR assay. Results: The chlorophyll a fluorescence parameters φPo, φEo, φRo, and PIabs of leaves were significantly inhibited under drought stress. ABA (abscisic acid) content noticeably increased over the duration of drought, whereas GA3 (gibberellic acid) and IAA (indole acetic acid) content decreased continuously. A total of 158 NACs were identified in blueberry genome and 62 NACs were differently expressed in leaf and root of blueberry under drought stress. Among them, 14 NACs were significantly correlated with the expression of other NAC genes. Conclusions: Our results revealed the phenotypic changes of this shrub under drought stress and linked them with NAC TFs, which are potentially involved in the process of response to drought stress.
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