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1. WO2021041474 - METHODS OF IMPROVING DROUGHT AND SALT RESISTANCE IN A PLANT AND GENETICALLY ENGINEERED PLANTS WITH SAID IMPROVEMENTS

Note: Text based on automatic Optical Character Recognition processes. Please use the PDF version for legal matters

[ EN ]

METHODS OF IMPROVING DROUGHT AND SALT RESISTANCE IN A PLANT AND GENETICALLY ENGINEERED PLANTS WITH SAID IMPROVEMENTS

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

[0001] This application claims the benefit of priority from U.S. Provisional Application No. 62/891,537, filed August 26, 2019, the entire contents of which are incorporated herein by reference.

STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH OR DEVELOPMENT

[0002] This disclosure was made with government support under a research project supported by Prime Contract No. DE-AC05-00OR22725 awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The government has certain rights in this invention.

INCORPORATION BY REFERENCE OF SEQUENCE LISTING

[0003] The Sequence Listing in an ASCII text file, named as

38312_3988_Seqlist_ST25.txt of 58 KB, created on August 18, 2020, and submitted to the United States Patent and Trademark Office via EFS-Web, is incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND

[0004] Evolved from one common ancestor, plants and animals share various fundamental developmental processes (e.g. embryogenesis, stress responses, growth, etc.) and cellular processes (e.g. cell cycle, gene regulation, metabolism, etc.), which are mainly built on evolutionarily conserved molecular mechanisms and orthologous/homologous proteins.

At the DNA and protein sequence levels, the advances in genome study have demonstrated that these conservations are also manifested via conserved motifs and/or domains. Therefore, the identification of conserved protein motif and sequence-function relationship is essential for understanding genetic features that underlie fundamental processes for plants and animals. However, the sequence-function relationship is complex, making it difficult to identify residues critical for protein functionality. Plant and animal orthologs generally have high sequence divergence that is resulted from millions of years of divergent evolution. Essential and functional residues and motifs were conserved during this evolution-driven natural selection, which can be identified by comparing plant and animal orthologs. However, comparative studies across plant and animal kingdoms remain rare.

[0005] Salt stress is the major abiotic stress that impacts plant growth and crop production. High salt content in soil imposes various stresses (e.g. salinity stress and osmotic stress) on plants and severely inhibits plant performance. Gene expression changes govern plant responses and adaption to salt stress. To date, a large number of salt stress-responsive genes have been identified via transcriptomic studies. The regulation of gene expression in response to salt stress is complex and occurs at multiple levels. The transcriptional regulation of salt stress responses has been extensively studied in the model plant Arabidopsis, which depends on abscisic acid (ABA) signaling and transcription factors. At the posttranscriptional level, mRNA metabolism, such as mRNA decay and splicing machinery, has been demonstrated to be crucial for regulating salt stress responses. In addition, protein kinases play multiple regulatory roles in salt stress responses by regulating signal transduction, mRNA metabolism, translation, and posttranslational mechanisms.

[0006] In human, deletions within a chromosomal region 22qll.2 have a high frequency in live births (1:4000) and are associated with abnormal developments. Within 22qll.2, DiGeorge Syndrome Critical Region 14/ESS-2 splicing factor homolog (DGCR14/ESS2) gene is located in a 250 kb region, which is called minimal DiGeorge syndrome (DGS) critical region. The deletion of this 250 kb region has been demonstrated to be tightly associated with a set of developmental disorders, such as DGS, velocardiofacial syndrome (VCFS), and conotruncal anomaly face syndrome (CFAFS). DGCR14/ESS2 is thought to be involved in mammal development because the transcript of DGCR14/ESS2 and its homologous gene (ES2) was detected in human heart, brain, and skeletal muscle, as well as mouse embryo. Molecular studies using the human cell model suggest that DGCR14/ESS2 may play a role in transcriptional regulation and pre-mRNA splicing. In human Thl7 cells, DGCR14 was found to physically interact with a nuclear hormone receptor RETINOID-REEATED ORPHAN NUCEEAR RECEPTOR GAMMA (RORy) and enhance RORy’s transcriptional activation on III 7a gene. Meanwhile,

DGCR14/ESS2 was also found to be a component of the spliceosomal complex and associate with Ul, U4, and U6 snRNAs. Despite these molecular results, the role of

DGCR14/ESS2 in mammal development remains poorly studied because the complete knockout of DGCR14/ESS2 in mammal models (e.g. mouse) is lethal. This lethality further demonstrates the biological importance of DGCR14/ESS2.

[0007] DGCR14/ESS2 has a singular ortholog in the flowering plant Arabidopsis

(. Arabidopsis thaliana ), which is named DGCR14-like (DGCR141). Arabidopsis DGCR141 and human DGCR14/ESS2 only have 26% identity at the amino acid level.

SUMMARY OF THE DISCLOSURE

[0008] In one aspect, the disclosure is directed to a genetically modified plant, plant cell or plant tissue, wherein an exogenous nucleic acid comprising a DiGeorge-Syndrome Critical Region 14 (DGCR14) gene, or a homolog thereof, is expressed in the plant, plant cell or plant tissue.

[0009] In some embodiments, the exogenous nucleic acid comprises a sequence with at least 90% sequence identity to a nucleotide sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NO: 1, SEQ ID NO: 3, SEQ ID NO: 5, SEQ ID NO: 7, SEQ ID NO: 9, SEQ ID NO: 11, SEQ ID NO: 13, SEQ ID NO: 15, and SEQ ID NO: 17.

[0010] In some embodiments, the exogenous nucleic acid encodes a protein with at least 90% sequence identity to an amino acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NO: 2, SEQ ID NO: 4, SEQ ID NO: 6, SEQ ID NO: 8, SEQ ID NO: 10, SEQ ID NO: 12, SEQ ID NO: 14, SEQ ID NO: 16, and SEQ ID NO: 18.

[0011] In some embodiments, the exogenous nucleic acid is stably integrated into the plant genome.

[0012] In some embodiments, the plant is a monocot or a dicot.

[0013] In some embodiments, the plant is selected from the group consisting of genera Acer, Afzelia, Allium, Arabidopsis, Agrostis, Avena, Betula, Brassica, Capsicum, Citrullus, Cucumis, Eucalyptus, Fagus, Festuca, Fraxinus, Fragaria, Glycine, Gossypium, Hordeum, Ipomoea, Jatropha, Juglans, Lemna, Lolium, Malus, Manihot, Medicago, Micropus, Milium, Miscanthus, Nicotiana, Oryza, Pennisetum, Phalaris, Phleum, Picea,

Pinus, Poa, Populus, Prunus, Quercus, Rosa, Salix, Solanum, Sorghum, Spinacia, Tectona, Trifolium, Triticum, Panicum, Saccharum, Setaria, Zea, and Zoysia.

[0014] Another aspect of this disclosure is directed to a method of improving drought and salt resistance in a plant, plant cell or plant tissue comprising: expressing an exogenous nucleic acid encoding a DiGeorge-Syndrome Critical Region 14 (DGCR14) gene, or a homolog thereof, in the plant, plant cell or plant tissue;

[0015] In some embodiments, the exogenous nucleic acid comprises a sequence with at least 90% sequence homology to a nucleotide sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NO: 1, SEQ ID NO: 3, SEQ ID NO: 5, SEQ ID NO: 7, SEQ ID NO: 9, SEQ ID NO: 11, SEQ ID NO: 13, SEQ ID NO: 15, and SEQ ID NO: 17.

[0016] In some embodiments, the exogenous nucleic acid encodes a protein with at least 90% sequence homology to an amino acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NO: 2, SEQ ID NO: 4, SEQ ID NO: 6, SEQ ID NO: 8, SEQ ID NO: 10, SEQ ID NO: 12, SEQ ID NO: 14, SEQ ID NO: 16, and SEQ ID NO: 18.

[0017] In some embodiments, the exogenous nucleic acid is stably integrated into the plant genome.

[0018] In some embodiments, the plant is a monocot or a dicot.

[0019] In some embodiments, the plant is selected from the group consisting of genera Acer, Afzelia, Allium, Arabidopsis, Agrostis, Avena, Betula, Brassica, Capsicum, Citrullus, Cucumis, Eucalyptus, Fagus, Festuca, Fraxinus, Fragaria, Glycine, Gossypium, Hordeum, Ipomoea, Jatropha, Juglans, Lemna, Lolium, Malus, Manihot, Medicago, Micropus, Milium, Miscanthus, Nicotiana, Oryza, Pennisetum, Phalaris, Phleum, Picea, Pinus, Poa, Populus, Prunus, Quercus, Rosa, Salix, Solanum, Sorghum, Spinacia, Tectona, Trifolium, Triticum, Panicum, Saccharum, Setaria, Zea, and Zoysia.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0020] The patent or application file contains at least one drawing executed in color. Copies of this patent or patent application publication with color drawing(s) will be provided by the Office upon request and payment of the necessary fee.

[0021] FIGS. 1A - 1C. Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs have high sequence divergence. (A) Phylogenetic tree of DGCR14. Black square, animal species; black circle, plant species; black triangle, microbe species. Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs are highlighted by red color. (B) Protein sequence alignment DGCR14 orthologs in Arabidopsis (Ath DGCR141 - SEQ ID NO: 2) and human (Has DGCR14/ESS2 - SEQ ID NO: 4). (*) Indicates identical amino acid, (:) indicates conserved amino acid with strongly similar properties, (.) indicates conserved amino acid with weakly similar properties. (C) Comparison of protein domains between Arabidopsis DGCR141 and human DGCR14/ESS2. The ES domain is indicated by a black box.

[0022] FIGS. 2A-2C. Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs have same subcellular localization pattern and protein-protein interaction partner in plant cells. (A) Subcellular localization of DGCR141-YFP and DGCR14/ESS2-YFP (green color) in Arabidopsis leaf mesophyll protoplasts. The localization of the nucleus is indicated by the nuclear marker mCherry-VirD2NLS (red color). Scale bar: 5 pm. (B) Co-localization of DGCR141-YFP and DGCR14/ESS2-YFP (green color) with mCherry-Ul-70k and mCherry-H2B (red color), respectively, in Arabidopsis leaf mesophyll protoplasts. The co-localization of paired proteins is indicated by the yellow color in merged pictures. Scale bar: 1 pm. (C) Bimolecular fluorescence complementation (BiFC) of cCFP-DGCR141 and cCFP-DGCR14/ESS2 (green color) with nVenus-Ul-70k and nVenus-H2B, respectively, in Arabidopsis leaf mesophyll protoplasts. The localization of the nucleus is indicated by the nuclear marker mCherry-VirD2NLS (red color). Scale bar: 5 pm.

[0023] FIGS. 3A - 3F. Disruption of DGCR14 in Arabidopsis does not affect plant growth but affects stress responses. (A) Phenotypes of two-week-old and six-week-old dgcrl4l-l and Col-0 (Wild-type). (B) GO terms enriched in differentially expressed genes in dgcrl4l-l mutant. FDR, False Discovery Rate. (C) The counts of pre-mRNA splicing events with significant differences between dgcr 141-1 mutant and Col-0. (D) Weblogo of the sequences around alternative splicing sites that were over-represented in dgcr 141-1 mutant. (E) Alternative splicing of SWI3A in Col-0 and dgcr 141-1 mutant. Transcriptome data of three biological replicates of Col-0 and dgcr 141-1 mutant was visualized by IGV browser. (F) PCR analysis showing the increased retention intron (RI) of SWI3A gene in dgcrl4l-l mutant under control (-NaCl) and salt stress (+NaCl) conditions. EFla was amplified as a quantity control.

[0024] FIGS. 4A - 4D. dgcrl4l-l mutant is deficient in salt stress responses. (A) Phenotypes and survival rates of Col-0, dgcrl4l-l, dgcrl4l-l 35S.DGCR141, and dgcrMl-1 35S.DGCR14/ESS2 plants after 200 mM NaCl treatment for ten days. Values represent means ± SEM, n = 50. (B) qRT-PCR analysis showing NaCl-induced DGCR141 expression. Gene expressions were normalized against the expression of EFla. DGCR141 expression in Col-0 without NaCl treatment was set as 1. Values represent means ± SEM, n = 3. (C) qPCR analysis showing expression changes of KIN1, COR15A, P5CS2, KIN2, RD29B, and RAB18 in Col-0, dgcr 141-1, dgcr 141-1 35S.DGCR141, and dgcr 141-1 35s:DGCR14/ESS2 with or without NaCl treatment. Gene expression in Col-0 without NaCl treatment was set as 1. Values represent means ± SEM, n = 3. (D) Orthologous phenotypes of plant salt stress responses in mouse (Data is from Phenologs database).

[0025] FIG. 5. The motif shared by Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs is critical for their subcellular localization. Subcellular localization of DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 containing different amino acid substitutions. The localization of the nucleus is indicated by the nuclear marker mCherry-VirD2NLS (red color). Scale bar: 10 pm.

[0026] FIGS. 6A - 6B. Retention intron of SWI3A triggers the deletion of the C-terminal leucine zipper domain. (A) Scheme of the wild-type SWI3A (SWI3A WT) and retention intron SWI3A (SWI3A RI). The retention intron region is indicated by red lines; Primers used for PCR validation are indicated by black arrows. (B) Scheme of SWI3A domain deletion caused by retention intron.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Definitions

[0027] Unless defined otherwise, all technical and scientific terms used herein have the same meaning as commonly understood by one of ordinary skill in the art to which this invention belongs.

[0028] As used herein, the term "about" refers to an approximately +/-10% variation from a given value.

[0029] The term "control plant," as used herein, refers to a plant of the same species that does not comprise the modification or modifications described in this disclosure. In some embodiments, the control plant is of the same variety. In some embodiments, the control plant is of the same genetic background.

[0030] The term "DNA," as used herein, refers to a nucleic acid molecule of one or more nucleotides in length. By "nucleotide" it is meant a naturally-occurring nucleotide, as well modified versions thereof. The term "DNA" includes double- stranded DNA, single-stranded DNA, isolated DNA such as cDNA, as well as modified DNA that differs from naturally-occurring DNA by the addition, deletion, substitution and/or alteration of one or more nucleotides as described herein.

[0031] As used herein, the term "drought stress" or "drought" refers to a sub-optimal environmental condition associated with limited availability of water to a plant. Limited availability of water may occur when, for instance, rain is absent or lower and/or when the plants are watered less frequently than required. Limited water availability to a plant may also occur when for instance water is present in soil, but cannot efficiently be extracted by the plant. For instance, when soils strongly bind water or when the water has a high salt content, it may be more difficult for a plant to extract the water from the soil. Hence, many factors can contribute to result in limited availability of water, i.e. drought, to a plant. The effect of subjecting plants to "drought" or "drought stress" may be that plants do not have optimal growth and/or development. Plants subjected to drought may have wilting signs. For example, plants may be subjected to a period of at least 15 days under specific controlled conditions wherein no water is provided, e.g. without rain fall and/or watering of the plants.

[0032] The term "exogenous," as used herein, refers to a substance or molecule originating or produced outside of an organism. The term "exogenous gene" or "exogenous nucleic acid molecule," as used herein, refers to a nucleic acid that codes for the expression of an RNA and/or protein that has been introduced ("transformed") into a cell or a progenitor of the cell. An exogenous gene may be from a different species (and so a "heterologous" gene) or from the same species (and so a "homologous" gene), relative to the cell being transformed. A transformed cell may be referred to as a recombinant or genetically modified cell. An "endogenous" nucleic acid molecule, gene, or protein can represent the organism's own gene or protein as it is naturally produced by the organism.

[0033] The term "expression" refers to the process of converting genetic information of a polynucleotide into RNA through transcription, which is catalyzed by an enzyme, RNA polymerase and into protein, through translation of mRNA on ribosomes. Expression can be, for example, constitutive or regulated, such as, by an inducible promoter (e.g., lac operon, which can be triggered by Isopropyl b-D-l-thiogalactopyranoside (IPTG)). Up-regulation or overexpression refers to regulation that increases the production of expression products (mRNA, polypeptide or both) relative to basal or native states, while inhibition or down-regulation refers to regulation that decreases production of expression products (mRNA, polypeptide or both) relative to basal or native states. Expression of a gene can be measured through a suitable assay, such as real-time quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR), Northern blot, transcriptome sequencing and Western blot.

[0034] The term "gene," as used herein, refers to a segment of nucleic acid that encodes an individual protein or RNA and can include both exons and introns together with associated regulatory regions such as promoters, operators, terminators, 5' untranslated regions, 3' untranslated regions, and the like.

[0035] The term "genetically modified" (or "genetically engineered" or "transgenic" or "cisgenic") refers to a plant comprising a manipulated genome or nucleic acids. In some embodiments, the manipulation is the addition of exogenous nucleic acids to the plant. In some embodiments, the manipulation is changing the endogenous genes of the plant.

[0036] The term "homologous" refers to nucleic acids or polypeptides that are highly related at the level of nucleotide or amino acid sequence. Nucleic acids or polypeptides that are homologous to each other are termed "homologues." The term "homolog" refers to a gene related to a second gene by descent from a common ancestral DNA sequence, therefore, the corresponding polynucleotide/polypeptide has a certain degree of homology, that is to say sequence identity (preferably at least 40%, more preferably at least 60%, even more preferably at least 65%, particularly preferred at least 66%, 68%, 70%, 75%, 80%, 86%, 88%, 90%, 92%, 95%, 97% or 99%).

[0037] The term "improved drought resistance" (aka. "drought tolerance") refers to plants which, when provided with improved drought resistance, when subjected to drought or drought stress do not show effects or show alleviated effects as observed in control plants not provided with improved drought resistance. A normal plant has some level of drought resistance. It can easily be determined whether a plant has improved drought resistance by comparing a control plant with a plant provided with improved drought resistance under controlled conditions chosen such that in the control plants signs of drought can be observed after a certain period, i.e., when the plants are subjected to drought or drought stress. The plants with improved drought resistance will show less and/or reduced signs of having been subjected to drought, such as wilting, as compared to the control plants. The skilled person knows how to select suitable conditions. When a plant has "improved drought resistance," it is capable of sustaining normal growth and/or normal development when being subjected to drought or drought stress would otherwise have resulted in reduced growth and/or reduced development of normal plants. Hence, "improved drought resistance" is determined by comparing plants, whereby the plant most capable of sustaining (normal) growth under drought stress is a plant with "improved drought resistance." The skilled person is able to select appropriate conditions to determine drought resistance of a plant and how to measure signs of droughts, such as described in for example manuals by the IRRI, Breeding rice for drought prone environments, Fischer et a , 2003; and by the CIMMYT, Breeding for drought and nitrogen stress tolerance in maize: from theory to practice, Banzinger et al, 2000. Examples of methods for determining improved drought resistance in plants are provided in Snow and Tingey (1985, Plant Physiol, 77, 602-7) and Harb et al. (Analysis of drought stress in Arabidopsis, AOP 2010, Plant Physiology Review).

[0038] The term "improved salt resistance" or "improved salt tolerance" refers to plants which, when provided with salt resistance (or being salt resistant), when subjected to high salt stress do not show effects or show alleviated effects as observed in plants not provided with salt resistance. When a plant is "salt resistant," it is capable of sustaining normal growth and/or normal development when being subjected to a high salt environment that otherwise would have resulted in reduced growth and/or development in normal plants. Hence, salt resistance is determined by comparing plants with another plant, whereby the plant most capable of sustaining (normal) growth may be a "salt resistant" plant, whereas the plant less capable may be termed a "salt sensitive" plant. Providing salt resistance thus is understood to include improving the salt resistance of a plant, when compared with a plant not provided with salt resistance. With plants provided with salt resistance it is e.g. possible to obtain higher yields of crop and/or plant product when the plant is subjected to a period or periods of high salt conditions when compared to plants not provided with salt resistance.

[0039] As used herein, the term "nucleic acid" has its general meaning in the art and refers to refers to a coding or non-coding nucleic sequence. Nucleic acids include DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid) nucleic acids. Examples of nucleic acid thus include but are not limited to DNA, mRNA, tRNA, rRNA, tmRNA, miRNA, piRNA, snoRNA, and snRNA. Nucleic acids thus encompass coding and non-coding region of a genome (i.e. nuclear or mitochondrial or chloroplast).

[0040] The term "operably linked" refers to positioning of a regulatory region and a sequence to be transcribed in a nucleic acid so as to influence transcription or translation of such a sequence. For example, to bring a coding sequence under the control of a regulatory region, the translation initiation site of the translational reading frame of the polypeptide is typically positioned between one and about fifty nucleotides downstream of the promoter. A regulatory region can, however, be positioned as much as about 5,000 nucleotides upstream of the translation initiation site or about 2,000 nucleotides upstream of the transcription start site. A regulatory region typically comprises at least a core (basal) promoter.

[0041] The term "regulatory region" refers to a nucleic acid having nucleotide sequences that influence transcription or translation initiation and rate and stability and/or mobility of a transcription or translation product. Regulatory regions include, without limitation, promoter sequences, enhancer sequences, response elements, protein recognition sites, inducible elements, protein binding sequences, 5' and 3' untranslated regions (UTRs), transcriptional start sites, termination sequences, polyadenylation sequences, introns and combinations thereof.

[0042] A regulatory region also may include at least one control element, such as an enhancer sequence, an upstream element or an upstream activation region (UAR). For example, a suitable enhancer is a cis-regulatory element (-212 to -154) from the upstream

region of the octopine synthase (ocs) gene (Fromm et al., The Plant Cell, 1:977-984 (1989)). The choice of regulatory regions to be included depends upon several factors, including, but not limited to, efficiency, selectability, inducibility, desired expression level and cell- or tissue-preferential expression. It is a routine matter for one of skill in the art to modulate the expression of a coding sequence by appropriately selecting and positioning regulatory regions relative to the coding sequence.

[0043] A "vector" is a replicon, such as a plasmid, phage or cosmid, into which another DNA segment may be inserted so as to bring about the replication of the inserted segment. Generally, a vector is capable of replication when associated with the proper control elements. Suitable vector backbones include, for example, those routinely used in the art such as plasmids, viruses, artificial chromosomes, BACs, YACs or PACs. The term "vector" includes cloning and expression vectors, as well as viral vectors and integrating vectors. An "expression vector" is a vector that includes a regulatory region. Suitable expression vectors include, without limitation, plasmids and viral vectors derived from, for example, bacteriophage, baculoviruses and retroviruses. Numerous vectors and expression systems are commercially available from such corporations as Novagen (Madison, Wis.), Clontech (Mountain View, Calif.), Stratagene (La Jolla, Calif.) and Invitrogen/Life Technologies (Carlsbad, Calif.).

GENERAL DESCRIPTION

Plants

[0044] There is no specific limitation on the plants that can be used in the methods of the present disclosure, as long as the plant is suitable to be transformed by a gene. The term "plant," as used herein, includes whole plants, plant tissues or plant cells. The plants that can be used for the methods and compositions of the present disclosure include various crops, flower plants or plants of forestry, etc. Specifically, the plants include, but are not limited to, dicotyledon, monocotyledon or gymnosperm. More specifically, the plants include, but is not limited to, wheat, barley, rye, rice, corn, sorghum, beet, apple, pear, plum, peach, apricot, cherry, strawberry, Rubus swinhoei Hance, blackberry, bean, lentil, pea, soy, rape, mustard, opium poppy, olea europea, helianthus, coconut, plant producing castor oil, cacao, peanut, calabash, cucumber, watermelon, cotton, flax, cannabis, jute, citrus, lemon, grapefruit, spinach, lettuce, asparagus, cabbage, Brassica campestris L. ssp.

Pekinensis, Brassica campestris L. ssp. chinensis, carrot, onion, murphy, tomato, green pepper, avocado, cassia, camphor, tobacco, nut, coffee, eggplant, sugar cane, tea, pepper, grapevine, nettle grass, banana, natural rubber tree and ornamental plant, etc.

[0045] In some embodiment the methods and compositions of the present disclosure are also be used over a broad range of plant species from the dicot genera Acer, Afzelia, Arabidopsis, Betula, Brassica, Eucalyptus, Fagus, Fraxinus, Glycine, Gossypium, Jatropha, Juglans, Linum, Lycopersicon, Medicago, Micropus, Populus, Prunus, Quercus, Salix, Solanum, Tectona and Trifolium; and the monocot genera Agrostis, Avena, Festuca, Hordeum, Lemna, Lolium, Milium, Miscanthus, Oryza, Panicum, Pennisetum, Phalaris, Phleum, Poa, Saccharum, Secale, Sorghum, Triticum, Zea and Zoysia and the gymnosperm genera Abies, Picea and Pinus. In some embodiments, a plant is a member of the species Festuca arundinacea, Miscanthus hybrid ( Miscanthus x giganteus ), Miscanthus sinensis, Miscanthus sacchariflorus, Panicum virgatum, Pennisetum purpureum, Phalaris arundinacea, Populus spp including but not limited to balsamifera, deltoides, tremuloides, tremula, alba and maximowiczii, Saccharum spp., Secale cereale, Sorghum almum, Sorghum halcapense or Sorghum vulgare. In certain embodiments, the polynucleotides and vectors described herein can be used to transform a number of monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous plants and plant cell systems, wherein such plants are hybrids of different species.

[0046] In some embodiments, the plant for the methods and compositions of the present disclosure is a C3 plant. The term "C3 plant" refers to a plant that captures carbon dioxide into three-carbon compounds to enter into the Calvin cycle (photosynthesis pathway). In a C3 plant carbon dioxide capture and the Calvin cycle occur during the daytime, and stomata of C3 plants are open during the day for gas exchange, which also leads to increased water loss through the stomata (evapotranspiration). In some embodiment, the C3 plant is selected from the group consisting of genera Allium, Arabidopsis, Brassica, Capsicum, Citrullus, Cucumis, Eucalyptus, Fragaria, Glycine, Gossypium, Hordeum, Ipomoea, Malus, Manihot, Nicotiana, Oryza, Populus, Prunus, Rosa, Solanum, Spinacia and Triticum.

[0047] In some embodiments, the plant for the methods and compositions of the present disclosure is a C4 plant. The term "C4 plant" refers to a plant that captures carbon dioxide into four-carbon compounds to enter into the Calvin cycle. In a C4 plant carbon dioxide capture and the Calvin cycle occur during the daytime, and stomata of C4 plants are open during the day for gas exchange, which also leads to increased water loss. In some embodiment, the C4 plant is selected from the group consisting of genera Panicum, Saccharum, Setaria, Sorghum and Zea.

Genetically modified ( transgenic ) plants/ plant species/ plant cells/plant tissues

[0048] Disclosed herein are plants and plant cells genetically modified by introduction of the disclosed exogenous nucleic acids and expression vectors to display increased salt and drought resistance/tolerance.

[0049] In some embodiments, the genetically modified plant comprises a plant that is modified to express an exogenous nucleic acid comprising a DiGeorge-Syndrome Critical Region 14 (DGCR14) gene, or a homolog thereof.

[0050] In some embodiments, the DGCR14 gene, or a homolog thereof, is from a plant.

In some embodiments, the plant is Arabidopsis, poplar or barrelclover. In some embodiments, the DGCR14 gene, or a homolog thereof, is from an animal. In some embodiments, the DGCR14 gene is from a mammal. In some embodiments, the DGCR14 gene is selected from a mammal selected from the group consisting of a human, a mouse, a rat, a cat, a dog, a monkey, and a bat.

[0051] In some embodiments, the exogenous nucleic acid comprises a sequence with at least 90% sequence identity to a nucleotide sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NO: 1, SEQ ID NO: 3, SEQ ID NO: 5, SEQ ID NO: 7, SEQ ID NO: 9, SEQ ID NO: 11, SEQ ID NO: 13, SEQ ID NO: 15, and SEQ ID NO: 17. In some embodiments, the exogenous nucleic acid encodes a protein with at least 90% sequence identity to an amino acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NO: 2, SEQ ID NO: 4, SEQ ID NO: 6, SEQ ID NO: 8, SEQ ID NO: 10, SEQ ID NO: 12, SEQ ID NO: 14, SEQ ID NO: 16, and SEQ ID NO: 18.

Table 1: DNA and protein sequences of DGCR14 in different species

[0052] Typically, genetically modified plant cells used in methods described herein constitute part or all of a whole plant. Such plants can be grown in a manner suitable for the species under consideration, either in a growth chamber, a greenhouse or in a field. Genetically modified plants can be bred as desired for a particular purpose, e.g., to introduce a recombinant nucleic acid into other lines, to transfer a recombinant nucleic acid to other species or for further selection of other desirable traits. Progeny includes descendants of a particular plant or plant line provided the progeny inherits the transgene. Progeny of a plant include seeds formed on FI, F2, F3, F4, F5, F6 and subsequent generation plants or seeds formed on BC1, BC2, BC3 and subsequent generation plants or seeds formed on F1BC1, F1BC2, F1BC3 and subsequent generation plants. Seeds

produced by a genetically modified plant can be grown and then selfed (or outcrossed and selfed) to obtain seeds homozygous for the nucleic acid construct. Alternatively, genetically modified plants can be propagated vegetatively for those species amenable to such techniques.

[0053] Genetically modified plant cells growing in suspension culture or tissue or organ culture can be useful for extraction of polypeptides or compounds of interest, e.g., lignin monomers or compounds in a lignin biosynthetic pathway. For the purposes of this invention, solid and/or liquid tissue culture techniques can be used. When using solid medium, genetically modified plant cells can be placed directly onto the medium or can be placed onto a filter film that is then placed in contact with the medium. When using liquid medium, genetically modified plant cells can be placed onto a floatation device, e.g., a porous membrane that contacts the liquid medium. Solid medium typically is made from liquid medium by adding agar. For example, a solid medium can be any of various mineral salt media, e.g., Murashige and Skoog (MS) medium containing agar and a suitable concentration of an auxin, e.g., 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and a suitable concentration of a cytokinin, e.g., kinetin.

[0054] As used herein, the term "genetically modified plant tissue" refers to bith meristematic tissues and permanent (or non-meristematic) tissues of a genetically modified plant. In some embodiments, a genetically modified tissue comprises a dermal tissue, a vascular tissue or a ground tissue.

Methods of improving drought and salt tolerance in plants

[0055] The inventors of the present disclosure have described a process of improving drought and salt tolerance/resistance in plants. Drought tolerance/resistance and salt tolerance/resistance, increased photosynthetic rate, biomass production and water-use efficiency are desirable qualities that affect plant biomass. With methods of this disclosure, it is possible to generate engineered plants which produce more biomass, and/or more crop and plant product derived thereof, if grown under conditions of low water availability/drought in comparison with plants not subjected to the method according to the present disclosure. In some embodiments, the biomass of the engineered plant is increased by at least 5%, by at least 10%, by at least 15%, by at least 20%, by at least 25%, by at least 30%, by at least 40%, by at least 50%, or by at least 60% when compared to a corresponding control plant.

[0056] In some embodiments, the method comprises introducing into a plant, plant cell or plant tissue an exogenous nucleic acid comprising a DiGeorge-Syndrome Critical Region 14 (DGCR14) gene, or a homolog thereof.

[0057] In some embodiments, the DGCR14 gene, or a homolog thereof, is from a plant.

In some embodiments, the plant is Arabidopsis, poplar or barrelclover. In some embodiments, the DGCR14 gene, or a homolog thereof, is from an animal. In some embodiments, the DGCR14 gene is from a mammal. In some embodiments, the DGCR14 gene is selected from a mammal selected from the group consisting of a human, a mouse, a rat, a cat, a dog, a monkey, and a bat.

[0058] In some embodiments, the exogenous nucleic acid comprises a sequence with at least 90% sequence homology to a nucleotide sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NO: 1, SEQ ID NO: 3, SEQ ID NO: 5, SEQ ID NO: 7, SEQ ID NO: 9, SEQ ID NO: 11, SEQ ID NO: 13, SEQ ID NO: 15, and SEQ ID NO: 17. In some embodiments, the exogenous nucleic acid encodes a protein with at least 90% sequence homology to an amino acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NO: 2, SEQ ID NO: 4, SEQ ID NO: 6, SEQ ID NO: 8, SEQ ID NO: 10, SEQ ID NO: 12, SEQ ID NO: 14, SEQ ID NO: 16, and SEQ ID NO: 18.

[0059] In some embodiments a plant, plant cell or plant tissue can be transformed by having a construct integrated into its genome, i.e., can be stably transformed. Stably transformed cells typically retain the introduced nucleic acid with each cell division. A plant or plant cell can also be transiently transformed such that the construct is not integrated into its genome. Transiently transformed cells typically lose all or some portion of the introduced nucleic acid construct with each cell division such that the introduced nucleic acid cannot be detected in daughter cells after a sufficient number of cell divisions. Both transiently transformed and stably transformed genetically modified plants and plant cells can be useful in the methods described herein.

Expression Vectors

[0060] The polynucleotides and expression vectors described herein can be used to increase the expression of a DiGeorge-Syndrome Critical Region 14 (DGCR14) gene product in plants and render them drought and salt resistant.

[0061] In some embodiments, the vector comprises a nucleic acid sequence encoding for a DGCR14 gene product from a plant. In some embodiments, the plant is Arabidopsis, poplar or barrelclover. In some embodiments, the DGCR14 gene, or a homolog thereof, is from an animal. In some embodiments, the DGCR14 gene is from a mammal. In some embodiments, the DGCR14 gene is selected from a mammal selected from the group consisting of a human, a mouse, a rat, a cat, a dog, a monkey, and a bat.

[0062] In some embodiments, the vector comprises a nucleic acid sequence with at least 90% sequence identity to a nucleotide sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NO: 1, SEQ ID NO: 3, SEQ ID NO: 5, SEQ ID NO: 7, SEQ ID NO: 9, SEQ ID NO:

11, SEQ ID NO: 13, SEQ ID NO: 15, and SEQ ID NO: 17. In some embodiments, the vector encodes a protein with at least 90% sequence identity to an amino acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NO: 2, SEQ ID NO: 4, SEQ ID NO: 6, SEQ ID NO: 8, SEQ ID NO: 10, SEQ ID NO: 12, SEQ ID NO: 14, SEQ ID NO: 16, and SEQ ID NO: 18.

[0063] The vectors provided herein can include origins of replication, scaffold attachment regions (SARs) and/or markers. A marker gene can confer a selectable phenotype on a plant cell. For example, a marker can confer biocide resistance, such as resistance to an antibiotic (e.g., kanamycin, G418, bleomycin or hygromycin) or an herbicide (e.g., chlorosulfuron or phosphinothricin). In addition, an expression vector can include a tag sequence designed to facilitate manipulation or detection (e.g., purification or localization) of the expressed polypeptide. Tag sequences, such as green fluorescent protein (GFP), glutathione S-transferase (GST), polyhistidine, c-myc, hemagglutinin or Flag- tag (Kodak, New Haven, Conn.) sequences typically are expressed as a fusion with the encoded polypeptide. Such tags can be inserted anywhere within the polypeptide, including at either the carboxyl or amino terminus. As described herein, plant cells can be transformed with a recombinant nucleic acid construct to express a polypeptide of interest.

[0064] A variety of promoters are available for use, depending on the degree of expression desired. For example, a broadly expressing promoter promotes transcription in many, but not necessarily all, plant tissues. Non-limiting examples of broadly expressing promoters that can be included in the nucleic acid constructs provided herein include the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S promoter, the mannopine synthase (MAS) promoter, the G or 2' promoters derived from T-DNA of Agrobacterium tumefaciens, the figwort mosaic virus 34S promoter, actin promoters such as the rice actin promoter and ubiquitin promoters such as the maize ubiquitin- 1 promoter.

[0065] In some embodiments, the promoter to drive expression of genes of interest is a constitutive promoter. In some embodiments the constitutive promoter is selected from the group consisting of a ubiquitin promoter, a cauliflower mosaic vims (CaMV) 35S promoter, an actin promoter, a peanut chlorotic streak caulimovirus promoter, a Chlorella virus methyltransferase gene promoter, a full-length transcript promoter form figwort mosaic virus, a pEMU promoter, a MAS promoter, a maize H3 histone promoter and an Agrobacterium gene promoter.

[0066] In some embodiments, the promoter to drive expression of genes of interest is a regulated promoter. In some embodiments the regulated promoter is selected from the group consisting of a stress induced promoter, chemical-induced promoter, a light induced promoter, a dark-induced promoter, and a circadian-clock controlled promoter.

[0067] Some suitable regulatory regions initiate transcription, only or predominantly, in certain cell types. For instance, promoters active in photosynthetic tissue confer transcription in green tissues such as leaves and stems. Examples of such promoters include the ribulose-l,5-bisphosphate carboxylase (RbcS) promoters such as the RbcS promoter from eastern larch ( Larix laricina), the pine chlorophyll a/b binding-6 (cab6) promoter (Yamamoto et ah, 1994, Plant Cell Physiol., 35:773-778), the chlorophyll a/b binding-1 (Cab-1) promoter from wheat (Fejes et ah, 1990, Plant Mol. Biol., 15:921-932), the chlorophyll a/b binding-1 (CAB-1) promoter from spinach (Lubberstedt et ah, 1994, Plant Physiol., 104:997-1006), the cab IR promoter from rice (Luan et ah, 1992, Plant Cell, 4:971-981), the pyruvate orthophosphate dikinase (PPDK) promoter from com (Matsuoka et ah, 1993. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 90:9586-9590), the tobacco light harvesting complex of photosystem (Lhcbl*2) promoter (Cerdan et ah, 1997, Plant Mol.

Biol., 33:245-255), the Arabidopsis SUC2 sucrose-H+ symporter promoter (Truemit et al., 1995, Planta, 196:564-570) and thylakoid membrane protein promoters from spinach (psaD, psaF, psaE, PC, FNR, atpC, atpD, cab, rbcS).

[0068] In some embodiments, promoters of the instant application comprise inducible promoters. Inducible promoters confer transcription in response to external stimuli such as chemical agents or environmental stimuli. For example, inducible promoters can confer transcription in response to hormones such as gibberellic acid or ethylene or in response to light, nitrogen, shade or drought.

[0069] A basal promoter is the minimal sequence necessary for assembly of a transcription complex required for transcription initiation. Basal promoters frequently include a "TATA box" element that may be located between about 15 and about 35 nucleotides upstream from the site of transcription initiation. Basal promoters also may include a "CCAAT box" element (typically the sequence CCAAT) and/or a GGGCG sequence, which can be located between about 40 and about 200 nucleotides, typically about 60 to about 120 nucleotides, upstream from the transcription start site.

[0070] A 5' untranslated region (UTR) can be included in nucleic acid constructs described herein. A 5' UTR is transcribed, but is not translated and lies between the start site of the transcript and the translation initiation codon and may include the +1 nucleotide. A 3' UTR can be positioned between the translation termination codon and the end of the transcript. UTRs can have particular functions such as increasing mRNA stability or attenuating translation. Examples of 3' UTRs include, but are not limited to, polyadenylation signals and transcription termination sequences, e.g., a nopaline synthase termination sequence.

[0071] It will be understood that more than one regulatory region may be present in a vector, e.g., introns, enhancers, upstream activation regions, transcription terminators and inducible elements. Regulatory regions, such as promoters for endogenous genes, can be obtained by chemical synthesis or by subcloning from a genomic DNA that includes such a regulatory region. A nucleic acid comprising such a regulatory region can also include flanking sequences that contain restriction enzyme sites that facilitate subsequent manipulation.

[0072] Techniques for introducing nucleic acids into monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous plants are known in the art and include, without limitation, Agrobacterium-mediated transformation, viral vector-mediated transformation, electroporation and particle gun transformation, e.g., U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,538,880, 5,204,253, 6,329,571 and 6,013,863, incorporated herein by reference. If a cell or tissue culture is used as the recipient tissue for transformation, plants can be regenerated from transformed cultures if desired, by techniques known to those skilled in the art. See, e.g., Niu et a , 2000. Plant Cell Rep. V19:304-310; Chang and Yang, 1996, Bat. Bull. Acad. Sin., V37:35-40 and Han et ak, 1999, Biotechnology in Agriculture and Forestry, V44:291 (ed. by Y. P. S. Bajaj), Springer-Vemag.

[0073] Unless defined otherwise, all technical and scientific terms used herein have the same meaning as commonly understood by one skilled in the art to which this invention belongs. Although any methods and materials similar or equivalent to those described herein can also be used in the practice or testing of the present invention, the preferred methods and materials are now described. All publications mentioned herein are incorporated herein by reference to disclose and describe the methods and/or materials in connection with which the publications are cited.

[0074] The specific examples listed below are only illustrative and by no means limiting.

EXAMPLES

Example 1: Materials and Methods

Plant Materials and Constructs

[0075] Arabidopsis plants used in this study were grown in a growth chamber with 14 h light at 21°C/10 h dark at 18°C with 60% relative humidity. The T-DNA insertional mutant dgcrl4l-l (SALK_096823) and dgcrl4l-2 (SALK_009248) were obtained from the ABRC (https://abrc.osu.edu/). T-DNA insertions were analyzed by PCR using the following primers: SALK_096823 LP: 5 ’ -GAACCTGCGATTGGAGTGTAG-3 ’ (SEQ ID NO: 19), SALK_096823 RP: 5’- CAATCGAGAAGATCATCGAGC-3 ’ (SEQ ID NO:

20), SALK_009248 LP: 5’- TGGAATGTTATAGTGCGGTCC-3 ’ (SEQ ID NO: 21), SALK_009248 RP: 5’- CGGATGAGAGTTCTCGATGAG-3 ’ (SEQ ID NO: 22), and

LBbl.3: 5 ’ -ATTTTGCCGATTTCGGAAC-3 ’ (SEQ ID NO: 23). The expression of DGCR141 in dgcrMl mutants was measured by qPCR using the following primers:

DGCR141 qRT F: 5’- CATCTGATCAGCCACCGAGT-3 ’ (SEQ ID NO: 24)) and DGCR141 qRT R: 5’- CTCAGTTAAAGGCGCCTCAC-3 ’ (SEQ ID NO: 25).

[0076] To express Arabidopsis DGCR141 ( AT3G07790 ) and human DGCR14/ESS2

( NM_022719 ) in dgcr 141-1 mutant, DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 were firstly cloned into pENTR vector (Invitrogen) and then subcloned into binary vector pGWB515 for transformation into dgcrl4l-l background. The expression of DGCR141 was measured by qPCR using DGCR141 qRT F: 5’ -CATCTGATCAGCCACCGAGT-3’ (SEQ ID NO: 26) and DGCR141 qRT R: 5’- CTCAGTTAAAGGCGCCTCAC-3’ (SEQ ID NO; 27) primers. The expression of DGCR14/ESS2 was measured by qPCR using DGCR14/ESS2 qRT F: 5’- GCGGAGAGTGACGGAGAAT-3 ’ (SEQ ID NO: 28) and DGCR14/ESS2 qRT R: 5’-CCCGGTCTGTGTACTTGCTG-3’ (SEQ ID NO: 29) primers.

[0077] For subcellular localization analyses in protoplasts, DGCR141, DGCR14/ESS2, and their mutant forms were firstly cloned into pENTR vector (Invitrogen) and then subcloned into transient expression vectors to fuse YFP to their C-terminal.

Phylogenetic Analysis

[0078] Multiple sequence alignment of the DGCR14 orthologs was conducted using MAFFT. Then the phylogenetic tree was inferred by using the maximum likelihood method and was conducted using the tool fasttree. Default parameters were used in MAFFT and fasttree.

RNA-seq and transcriptome Analysis

[0079] Total RNAs were extracted from three-week-old seedlings grown in soil. For each genotype, three replicates were prepared. RNAs were firstly qualified using Agilent 2100 Bioanalyzer. Stranded RNA-seq libraries were created and quantified by qPCR.

Sequencing was performed using an Illumina HiSeq 4000 instrument. Raw fastq file reads were filtered and trimmed using the BGI software SOAPnuke.

[0080] To determine differentially expressed genes (DEGs), clean reads were mapped to Arabidopsis reference (TAIR10) using Bowtie2. DEGs were then detected by NOIseq

with parameters of fold change >= 2.00 and P value < 0.01. Alternative splicing events and differential splicing events were identified using Multivariate Analysis of Transcript Splicing (MATS).

Salt Treatment

[0081] Seeds of various genotypes were germinated on ½ MS medium. For NaCl treatment, 4-day-old seedlings were transferred to ½ MS medium containing 200 mM of NaCl. After ten days, plant phenotypes were pictures and the survival rates were counted and calculated.

[0082] To detect gene expression changes induced by NaCl treatment, 7-day-old seedlings were transferred to ½ MS medium containing 200 mM of NaCl. After 4 hours, the treated seedlings were then sampled to extract total RNAs for qRT-PCR analysis.

Subcellular Localization and BiFC

[0083] Protoplast isolation and transfection were performed as previously described (Xie et al. (The Plant Cell 30, 1645-1660 (2018)). For subcellular localization, 8 pg of DGCR141-YFP and DGCR14/ESS2-YFP constructs were co-transfected with 2 pg of the nuclear marker construct (mCherry-)VirD2NLS), respectively, into 100 pi of protoplasts (~2 x 104 cells) to determine their subcellular localizations. For colocalization, paired constructs (5 pg each) were co-transfected into 100 pi of protoplasts. For BiFC, paired genes were cloned into pSATI-nVenus-C (fuse with nVenus) and pSATI-cCFP-C (fuse with cCFP), respectively. Then their expression cassettes were cloned into pUC119 (pUC-RCS) vector using Ascl for transient expression in protoplasts. The generated constructs (4 pi of nVenus construct and 4 pi of cCFP construct) were co-transfected with 2 pi of the nuclear marker construct (mCherry-VirD2NLS) into 100 pi of protoplasts. After 14 h incubation under weak light at room temperature, protoplasts were collected and resuspended in cold W5 solution (2 mM MES pH 5.7, 154 mM NaCl, 125 mM CaCF, and 5 mM KC1) to subject to microscopy. Images were collected using a Zeiss LSM 710 confocal microscope, equipped with 514 and 561 nm laser lines for excitation of YFP and mCherry, respectively. Images were processed using Zen software (Zeiss).

Conserved Amino Acid Analysis

[0084] The human DGCR14/ESS2 protein sequence was used as the query sequence for the BLASTP to identify orthologs in the NCBI non-redundant (nr) database. The top 500 sequences with identity > 25.96% and covered 394 species were downloaded for further analysis. Multiple alignment of the 500 DGCR14 orthologs were performed using the Clustal X2.1, and the positions with sequence identity > 99% were selected as conserved amino acids.

Accession Numbers

[0085] Sequence data from this article can be found under the following Arabidopsis Genome Initiative or National Center for Biotechnology Information accession numbers: Arabidopsis DGCR141 (AT3G07790), human DGCR14/ESS2 (NM_022719), Ul-70k (AT3G50670), U2B (AT2G30260), SWI3A (AT2G47620), KIN1(AT5G15960), COR15A (AT2G42540), P5CS2 (AT3G55610), KIN2 (AT5G15970), RD29B (AT5G52300), and RAB18 (AT5G66400).

Example 2:

Plant and mammal DGCR14 orthologs have high sequence divergence

[0086] DGCR14 orthologs widely exist in plants, animals, and microbes. In most species, DGCR14 has a single copy. Phylogenetic analysis with DGCR14 orthologs from plant, animal, and microbe species showed that they can be divided into three subgroups: cluster I and II that exclusively contain animal species, and cluster III that contains plant and microbe species (FIG. 1A). The result that plant and animal DGCR14 orthologs belong to different clusters suggests the high divergence between them. As a model plant, Arabidopsis genome only contains one gene ( AT3G07790 ) that encodes DGCR14 ortholog, which is named DGCR14-like ( DGCR141 ). DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 proteins only share 26% identity (FIG. IB). Despite the dramatic sequence divergence, the protein domain annotation by SMART (Simple Modular Architecture Research Tool) revealed that both DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 proteins have a long ES domain (FIG.

1C), which is a coiled-coil region and widely conserved from yeast to human. However, the function of this ES domain remains unclear.

DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 have the same subcellular localization in plant cells

[0087] The high sequence divergence between plant and mammal DGCR14 orthologs suggests that they may have distinct functions. To test this hypothesis, the inventors used Arabidopsis DGCR141 and human DGCR14/ESS2 for comparative studies. Since the localization in cellular compartments is one major determinant for protein function, the inventors firstly analyzed the subcellular localization of DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 using the Arabidopsis mesophyll protoplast transient expression system. In the analysis, DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 were each fused with Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP) at their C-terminal, and then transiently expressed in protoplasts. As shown in FIG. 2A, both DGCR141-YFP and DGCR14/ESS2-YFP (green color) exhibit punctate distribution in the nucleus, which is indicated by overlapping with the red-colored nuclear marker mCherry-VirD2NES. It is interesting to observe that DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 have the same localization pattern, implying that the two orthologs may have similar, rather than distinct cellular functions.

DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 are associated with Ul-70k in the nucleus

[0088] The punctate nuclear localization patterns of DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 suggest that they may be associated with certain nuclear bodies that function in gene regulation and/or RNA processing, such as Cajal body (the hub for small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (snRNP) assembly and modification), polycomb body (the hub for gene repression), and nuclear speckle (the hub for pre-mRNA splicing), etc. By analyzing the co-localization of DGCR14 orthologs with nuclear body component markers, the inventors found that DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 were co-localized with U1 SMAEE NUCEEAR RIBONUCLEOPROTEIN-70K (Ul-70k, AT3G50670), which is a pre-mRNA spliceosome component. For the co-localization analysis, DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 were fused with YFP tag (green color). Nuclear body markers were fused with mCherry tag (red color). Recombinant pairs of DGCR14 orthologs and nuclear body markers were co-transfected into protoplasts to determine their co-localization, which is indicated by overlapping of YFP and mCherry signals that shows yellow color. As shown in FIG. 2B, both DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 co-localize with Ul-70k. However, the two DGCR14 orthologs have no co-localization with another pre-mRNA spliceosome marker, U2 SMAEE NUCEEAR RIBONUCLEOPROTEIN B (U2B, AT2G30260). Given the fact

that Ul-70k and U2B specifically associate with different small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs) in the spliceosome, these results suggest that DGCR14 may selectively associate with spliceosome components.

[0089] To further test the association of DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 with spliceosome, a bimolecular fluorescence complementation (BiFC) assay was performed in Arabidopsis protoplasts. In this assay, DGCR14 orthologs and Ul-70k were fused with split YFP (C-terminai fragment of CFP (cCFP) and N-terminal of Venus (nVenus)), and co-expressed in protoplasts. The interaction between two proteins will bring cCFP and nVenus together to form a functional YFP, which then leads to fluorescence. As shown in FIG. 2C, YFP signals were detected in nuclear speckles for both DGCR141-Ul-70k and DGCR14/ESS2-Ul-70k interactions. In contrast, no YFP signal was detected from DGCR141-U2B or DGCR14/ESS2-U2B interaction (FIG. 2C), further supporting DGCR14’s selectivity on spliceosome components. These results illustrate that both Arabidopsis DGCR141 and human DGCR14/ESS2 are associated with Ul-70k, which is specifically present in U1 small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (snRNP).

Example 3

Knockout of DGCR14 in Arabidopsis is not embryonically lethal but impairs salt stress responses

[0090] Having shown that DGCR14 orthologs share the similar cellular properties (i.e., subcellular localization and association with spliceosome component), the inventors wanted to further investigate whether Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs share similar biological functions despite their sequence divergence. To test this, the inventors analyzed Arabidopsis DGCR141 knockout mutants. Based on the cDNA sequence, DGCR141 gene contains one exon and no intron. The inventors obtained its T-DNA insertion lines SAFK_096823 ( dgcrl4l-l ) and SAFK_009248 ( dgcrl4l-2 ) from the Arabidopsis stock center. T-DNA insertions in dgcrl4l-l and dgcrl4l-2 mutants were validated by PCR using primers flanking the insertion sites in DGCR141. RT-PCR analysis did not detect the transcripts of DGCR141 in dgcrl4l-l or dgcr!4l-2, indicating that dgcr 141-1 and dgcr 141-2 mutants are likely null alleles. However, these two DGCR14 null alleles did not exhibit obvious deficiency in germination, vegetable growth, or

reproductive growth (FIG. 3A), which is completely different from DGCR14 knockout in animal models (i.e., embryo lethality).

[0091] To fully explore the biological consequences of DGCR14 knockout in Arabidopsis, the inventors performed transcriptomics analysis using RNAs from three-week-old dgcrMl mutants and its corresponding wild type Col-0. Three biological replicates were analyzed, and highly consistent results among replicates were obtained (Pearson correlation value > 0.97). The differential gene expression analysis identified a total of 314 genes whose transcription has significant changes (P value < 0.01, false discovery rate [FDR] < 0.05) in dgcrl4l-l mutant, including 225 up-regulated genes and 89 down-regulated genes. The inventors then performed Gene Ontology (GO) enrichment analysis to determine biological processes that are dramatically affected by DGCR14 depletion as a way to deduce the function of DGCR14. As shown in FIG. 3B, nine out of the top ten GO terms are related with plant defense, including response to biotic stimulus (G0:0009607), response to external biotic stimulus (G0:0043207), response to other organism (G0:0051707), systemic acquired resistance (G0:0009627), defense response to other organism (G0:0098542), response to external stimulus (G0:0009605), response to stress (G0:0006950), and defense response (G0:0006952). The GO enrichment analysis of dgcr 141-2 mutant has similar outcomes as dgcr 141-1. These GO enrichment results suggest that DGCR141 may play an active role in plant defense mechanisms. Because dgcrl4l-l and dgcrl4l-2 have similar GO enrichment outcomes and their T-DNA insertion sites are very close, the inventors selected dgcrl4ll-l for following analyses.

[0092] Because the inventors have shown that Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs are associated with spliceosome component, the inventors also wanted to examine alternative splicing (AS) events in dgcr 141-1 mutant. Multivariate Analysis of Transcript Splicing (MATS) was used to identify alternative splicing events and differential splicing events from RNA-seq data. Compared with Col-0, dgcrl4l-l mutant has 113 significantly changed AS events (P<0.1), including 41 of alternative 3’ splicing sites (SSs), 17 of alternative 5’ SSs, 45 of retention intron, and 10 of skipped exon (FIG. 3C). Sequence analysis of these over-represented alternative splicing events revealed that these activated splice sites were still associated with GU and AG dinucleotides (FIG. 3D), suggesting that the depletion of DGCR14 did not change the accuracy of the sequence recognition of the splicing sites but simply alter the frequency of AS. Because of the broad impact of

DGCR14 knockout on the expression of over 300 Arabidopsis genes, the inventors wanted to further examine if essential transcriptional regulators are among those 113 genes with significantly changed AS events. The inventors discovered that a core subunit of SWITCH/SUCROSE NONFERMENTING (SWI/SNF) chromatin-remodeling complexes named SWI3A, had aberrant pre-mRNA splicing in dgcrl4l-l mutant (Fig. 3E). SWI/SNF chromatin-remodeling complexes are important transcriptional regulators in eukaryotes. In dgcr 141-1, SWI3A had increased retention intron events that trigger the deletion of the C-terminai leucine zipper domain (Fig. 6), which is functional in protein-protein interactions for complex assembly. The increased retention intron of SWI3A was further validated by PCR using primers flanking the retained intron (Fig. 6A). As shown in Fig. 3F, the band of retention intron was only detected in dgcrl4l-l mutant, but not in Col-0..

[0093] To validate the effect of DGCR14 disruption on plant salt stress responses, the inventors transferred four-day-old Col-0 and dgcrl4l-l seedlings onto ½ MS plate containing 200 mM of NaCl for salt stress treatment and found that the dgcr 141-1 mutant is more susceptible towards salt stress than Col-0. After ten days, the survived (green leaves) and dead seedlings (white leaves) were counted to calculate the survival rate.

After NaCl treatment, the survival rate of the dgcrl4l-l mutant (47.83%, n=50) is much lower than that of Col-0 (69.23%, n=50) (FIG. 4A), demonstrating that the dgcrl4l-l mutant has a reduced tolerance towards salt stress.

[0094] To further validate the role of DGCR141 in salt stress responses, the inventors measured the expression of DGCR141 in Col-0 under control and salt stress conditions. As shown in FIG. 4B, DGCR141 expression was induced by NaCl treatment. The inventors also validated the RNA-seq data with qRT-PCR for two salt stress-responsive marker genes: KIN1, which encodes a protein kinase induced by cold or dehydration treatment and COR15A, which encodes a chloroplast protein protecting stromal proteins from aggregation under abiotic stresses. Consistent with the RNA-seq data, the two genes had reduced expression levels in dgcr 141-1 mutant under the control condition (FIG. 4C) whereas salt-induced KIN I and COR15A expressions were increased significantly in dgcr 141-1 mutant (FIG. 4C). In addition, the inventors observed varied salt- induced expressions of other marker genes, including P5CS2, KIN2, RD29B, and RAB18. The qPT-PCR analyses revealed that dgcrl4l-l mutant exhibited higher salt-induced expressions of P5CS2, KIN2, and RAB18 than those in Col-0 (FIG. 4C). In contrast, salt- induced RD29B expression was reduced in dgcrl4l-l mutant (FIG. 4C). The inventors also observed the induction of retention intron of SWI3A gene by NaCl treatment (Fig.

3F), suggesting that the alternative splicing of SWI3A could be associated with salt stress responses.

[0095] Collectively, the physiological and gene expression analyses of the instant disclosure demonstrated that DGCR14 is required for proper salt stress responses.

Example 4

Both plant and human DGCR14 can complement salt stress phenotypes of dgcr!4l-l mutant

[0096] To validate the involvement of DGCR141 in plant salt stress responses, the inventors over-expressed DGCR141 gene in dgcrl4l-l mutant ( dgcrl4l-l 35S.DGCR141 ) and measured salt stress tolerance of genetically modified plants. dgcrl4l-l 35S. DGCR141 plants exhibited a survival rate of 81.40% (n=50), which is even higher than that of Col-0 (FIG. 4A). Meanwhile DGCR141 over-expression was capable of complementing the aberrant expression of KIN I, COR15A, P5CS2, KIN2, RD29B, and RAB18 in dgcr 141-1 mutant under both control and salt stress conditions (FIG. 4C), further support that that DGCR141 is involved in plant salt stress responses as well as associated stress-responsive gene expression.

[0097] Having defined salt stress susceptibility as a scoreable phenotype of dfcrl4 mutant, the inventors wanted to use this to test the conservation/difference of biological function between Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs. The inventors over-expressed human DGCR14/ESS2 gene in the dgcr 141-1 mutant ( dgcr 141-1 35S. DGCR14/ESS2 ) in a same manner as the Arabidopsis DGCR14 overexpression. Interestingly, the inventors observed the complementation of salt stress phenotypes by human DGCR14 as the over expression of Arabidopsis DGCR141 did. As shown in FIG. 4A, dgcrl4l-l 35S.DGCR14/ESS2 plants had a survival rate of 93.48% under NaCl treatment, which is even higher than the over-expression of DGCR141. Moreover, the over-expression of DGCR14/ESS2 displayed similar effects as Arabidopsis DGCR14 on the expression of KIN I, COR15A, P5CS2, KIN2, RD29B, and RAB18. (FIG. 4C).

[0098] These results suggest that Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs has similar biological functions. On the other hand, the depletion of conserved orthologs with the same function often manifests different phenotypic outputs in different organisms because of the organism- specific roles played by the orthologs. To explore the connection between reduced salt stress tolerance of Arabidopsis DGCR141 null mutant and lethality of DGCR14 knockout mammals, the inventors searched Arabidopsis salt stress response in the Phenologs database, which enabled to identify cross-organism pairs of orthologous phenotypes that significantly share common orthologous genes. By doing so, the inventors found that response to salt stress in Arabidopsis has orthologous phenotypes in mouse that are associated with developmental disorders, lethality, and neurological & cardiovascular deficiencies (FIG. 4D). This discovery may explain the phenotypic difference of DGCR14 knockout in Arabidopsis and mammals.

Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs share a functional motif

[0099] Although Arabidopsis DGCR141 and human DGCR14/ESS2 protein only have 26% identity at the amino acid level, the instant studies using the model plant Arabidopsis demonstrated that the two DGCR14 orthologs still have conserved molecular and biological functions when tested in the Arabidopsis model. These discoveries implied that these two proteins may share similar functional motifs despite high divergence in the amino acid sequence. In order to search for potential conserved motifs, the inventors performed protein sequence alignment using 500 DGCR14 orthologs from 395 plant, animal, and microbe species. The conservation rate of each amino acid was calculated by counting the percentage of orthologs containing the same amino acid in a total of 500 DGCR14 orthologs. By using 99% as the cutoff, the inventors discovered four highly conserved amino acids. Three out of four amino acids are adjacent and form a small motif (TWG) in both Arabidopsis DGCR141 (aa364-366) and human DGCR14/ESS2 (aa317-319). The other single conserved amino acid is also present in DGCR141 (P372) and DGCR14/ESS2 (P325).

[00100] To explore the potential functionality of these four conserved amino acids, the inventors introduced two mutations into DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 proteins: one mutation is a substitution of TWG with KKK (DGCR141 TWG/KKK and DGCR14/ESS2 TWG/KKK) and the other mutation is a substitution of P with K (DGCR141 P372K and

DGCR14/ESS2 P325K). These radical amino acid substitutions are expected to alter DGCR14 protein function due to the difference in their chemical properties (polar vs. non polar etc.). Then, mutated DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 proteins were fused with YEP tag to investigate their subcellular localizations in protoplasts. As shown in FIG. 5, DGCR141 TWG/KKK and DGCR14/ESS2 TWG/KKK exhibited significantly altered localization patterns in which their signals spread to the whole nucleus instead of concentrating in nuclear speckles. In contrast, the substitution of P with K (DGCR141 P372K and DGCR14/ESS2 P325K) had no effect on the localization patterns of DGCR141 or DGCR14/ESS2. These results demonstrated that the TWG motif shared by Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs is critical for their proper nuclear localization.

Example 5

[00101] DGCR14 is an ancient protein that widely exists in plants, animals, and microbes. In animal models, DGCR14 depletion is associated with developmental disorders and embryonic lethality. In plants, the inventors found that DGCR14 is required for proper abiotic stress responses, which are crucial for plant survival and development. Generally, proteins with only 26% sequence identity are considered to have totally different functions. However, the inventors' studies on Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs revealed that they have conserved molecular and biological functions. The two DGCR14 orthologs have the same nuclear distribution pattern and are associated with the same protein partner Ul-70k, when tested in plant cells. Moreover, both of them can restore salt stress tolerance and salt stress-responsive genes expression of dgcrl4l-l mutant. In human cells, DGCR14/ESS2 has been reported to selectively associate with small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs) that mediate pre-mRNA splicing, including Ul, U4, and U6 snRNAs. In plant cells, the inventors found that DGCR141 and DGCR14/ESS2 are associated with Ul-70k, but not U2B. Ul-70k is only present in the Ul small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (snRNP) that specifically associates with U 1 snRNA, whereas U2B is a U2 snRNP-specific protein. Thus, the instant disclosure suggests that the selective association with snRNPs may determine DGCR14’s specificity in snRNAs. On the other hand, the sequence divergence and functional conservation between Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs prompted the inventors to hypothesize that over millions of years of divergent evolution between plants and animals did not change essential motifs in crucial proteins like DGCR14. To support this hypothesis, the inventors identified a functional motif shared by Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs. Although the motif only contains three amino acids, the inventors discovered that this motif is critical for the proper subcellular localization of DGCR14 orthologs. This study demonstrates the value of cross-kingdom comparative studies in understanding the sequence-function relationship.

[00102] The different depletion phenotypic outcomes of orthologs with conserved function in plants and animals have been observed and systematically characterized in previous studies. The phenotypic difference makes plants a good alternative platform to study mechanisms of fatal diseases in human. DGCR14 was named as DiGeorge-syndrome Critical Region 14 because of its tight association with a set of developmental disorders caused by 22qll.2 deletion in human. The lethality of DGCR14/ESS2 knockout in mouse prevented the comprehensive study of DGCR14/ESS2 biological function. In contrast, the knockout of DGCR14 in Arabidopsis has a limited effect on plant growth and development, which enabled the inventors to gain new insights into DGCR14 function using DGCR14 depletion Arabidopsis. The transcriptomic and physiological studies on Arabidopsis DGCR141 null mutants revealed that DGCR14 is required for plant salt stress response, which has orthologous phenotypes in mouse that are related with developmental disorders, lethality, and neurological & cardiovascular deficiencies. It is notable that these mouse phenotypes highly overlap with symptoms of human DiGeorge syndrome (or 22qll.2 deletion syndrome), including developmental delay, heart defects, and learning problems. At the molecular level, the inventors found that DGCR14 is required for the proper pre-mRNA splicing of SWI3A in Arabidopsis. SWI3A is a core subunit of SWI/SNF chromatin-remodeling complexes. In plants, SWI/SNF complexes are critical for the transcriptional regulation of various biological processes, including development, growth and abiotic stress responses. More importantly, components of SWI/SNF chromatin-remodeling complexes, as well as the regulatory mechanisms they are involved in, are highly conserved across eukaryotic species including Arabidopsis and human. In mammals, mutations that interfere SWI/SNF complexes function have been shown to lead to abnormal cell cycle progression, tumorigenesis and early lethality, which are phenotypes also been observed in 22qll.2 deletion. Therefore, the inventors speculate that 22ql 1.2 deletion in human may disrupt crucial and conserved mechanisms associated with

DGCR14, such as SWI/SNF complex-mediated transcriptional regulation, to cause developmental disorders.

[00103] DGCR14/ESS2 has been reported to physically interact with RORy to enhance its transcriptional activation in animal cells. In conclusion, the instant studies on Arabidopsis and human DGCR14 orthologs demonstrate that plants can be a valuable alternative platform to understand mechanisms of human fatal diseases and comparative studies across plant and animal kingdoms provide a better understanding of the sequence-function relationship.