A comparative transcriptomic approach to understanding the formation of cork

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Cork oak, Quercus suber, differs from other Mediterranean oaks such as holm oak (Quercus ilex) by the thickness and organization of the external bark. While holm oak outer bark contains sequential periderms interspersed with dead secondary phloem (rhytidome), the cork oak outer bark only contains thick layers of phellem (cork rings) that accumulate until reaching a thickness that allows industrial uses. Here we compare the cork oak outer bark transcriptome with that of holm oak. Both transcriptomes present similitudes in their complexity, but whereas cork oak external bark is enriched with upregulated genes related to suberin, which is the main polymer responsible for the protective function of periderm, the upregulated categories of holm oak are enriched in abiotic stress and chromatin assembly. Concomitantly with the upregulation of suberin-related genes, there is also induction of regulatory and meristematic genes, whose predicted activities agree with the increased number of phellem layers found in the cork oak sample. Further transcript profiling among different cork oak tissues and conditions suggests that cork and wood share many regulatory mechanisms, probably reflecting similar ontogeny. Moreover, the analysis of transcripts accumulation during the cork growth season showed that most regulatory genes are upregulated early in the season when the cork cambium becomes active. Altogether our work provides the first transcriptome comparison between cork oak and holm oak outer bark, which unveils new regulatory candidate genes of phellem development ​
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