Potato CYCLING DOF FACTOR 1 and its lncRNA counterpart StFLORE link tuber development and drought response

Ramírez Gonzales, Lorena; Shi, Li; Bergonzi, Sara Bergonzi; Oortwijn, Marian; Franco-Zorrilla, José M.; Solano-Tavira, Roberto; Visser, Richard G.F.; Abelenda, José A.; Bachem, Christian W.B.


Plants regulate their reproductive cycles under the influence of environmental cues, such as day length, temperature and water availability. In Solanum tuberosum (potato), vegetative reproduction via tuberization is known to be regulated by photoperiod, in a very similar way to flowering. The central clock output transcription factor CYCLING DOF FACTOR 1 (StCDF1) was shown to regulate tuberization. We now show that StCDF1, together with a long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) counterpart, named StFLORE, also regulates water loss through affecting stomatal growth and diurnal opening. Both natural and CRISPR-Cas9 mutations in the StFLORE transcript produce plants with increased sensitivity to water-limiting conditions. Conversely, elevated expression of StFLORE, both by the overexpression of StFLORE or by the downregulation of StCDF1, results in an increased tolerance to drought through reducing water loss. Although StFLORE appears to act as a natural antisense transcript, it is in turn regulated by the StCDF1 transcription factor. We further show that StCDF1 is a non-redundant regulator of tuberization that affects the expression of two other members of the potato StCDF gene family, as well as StCO genes, through binding to a canonical sequence motif. Taken together, we demonstrate that the StCDF1–StFLORE locus is important for vegetative reproduction and water homeostasis, both of which are important traits for potato plant breeding.