Progress Towards Plant Community Transcriptomics: Pilot RNA-Seq Data from 24 Species of Vascular Plants at Harvard Forest
Premise of the study: Large scale projects such as NEON are collecting ecological data on entire biomes to track and understand plant responses to climate change. NEON provides an opportunity for researchers to launch community transcriptomic projects that ask integrative questions in ecology and evolution. We conducted a pilot study to investigate the challenges of collecting RNA-seq data from phylogenetically diverse NEON plant communities, including species with diploid and polyploid genomes. Methods: We used Illumina NextSeq to generate >20 Gb of RNA-seq for each of 24 vascular plant species representing 12 genera and 9 families at the Harvard Forest NEON site. Each species was sampled twice, in July and August 2016. We used Transrate, BUSCO, and GO analyses to assess transcriptome quality and content. Results: We obtained nearly 650 Gb of RNA-seq data that assembled into more than 755,000 translated protein sequences across the 24 species. We observed only modest differences in assembly quality scores across a range of k-mer values. On average, transcriptomes contained hits to >70% of loci in the BUSCO database. We found no significant difference in the number of assembled and annotated genes between diploid and polyploid transcriptomes. Discussion: Our resource provides new RNA-seq datasets for 24 species of vascular plants in Harvard Forest. Challenges associated with this type of study included recovery of high quality RNA from diverse species and access to NEON sites for genomic sampling. Overcoming these challenges offers clear opportunities for large scale studies at the intersection of ecology and genomics.
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