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Transcriptome Study Tracks Evolution of Root Cell Types in Crop Plants

Researchers in the US, the United Arab Emirates, and Canada have used single-cell transcriptomics to characterize shared and divergent root cell traits in three grass species grown as crop plants: the corn plant Zea mays, sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), and millet (Setaria viridis). As they report in Nature, the investigators used single-nucleus RNA sequencing to tally root cell types and track down related cell marker genes across the plants, comparing gene expression modules, sequence rearrangements, and cell type divergence patterns found in the roots with this "pan-grass transcriptome" approach. "The comparative cellular analysis shows that the transcriptomes of some cell types diverged more rapidly than those of others — driven, in part, by recruitment of gene modules from other cell types," the team writes. "The data also show that a recent whole-genome duplication provides a rich source of new, highly localized gene expression domains that favor fast-evolving cell types."