Indexed on: 11 Aug '17Published on: 11 Aug '17Published in: Plant physiology
Thicker leaves allow plants to grow in water-limited conditions. However, our understanding of the genetic underpinnings of this highly functional leaf shape trait is poor. We used a custom-built confocal profilometer to directly measure leaf thickness in a set of introgression lines (ILs) derived from the desert tomato Solanum pennellii and identified quantitative trait loci. We report evidence of a complex genetic architecture of this trait and roles for both genetic and environmental factors. Several ILs with thick leaves have dramatically elongated palisade mesophyll cells and, in some cases, increased leaf ploidy. We characterized the thick IL2-5 and IL4-3 in detail and found increased mesophyll cell size and leaf ploidy levels, suggesting that endoreduplication underpins leaf thickness in tomato. Next, we queried the transcriptomes and inferred dynamic Bayesian networks of gene expression across early leaf ontogeny in these lines to compare the molecular networks that pattern leaf thickness. We show that thick ILs share S. pennellii-like expression profiles for putative regulators of cell shape and meristem determinacy as well as a general signature of cell cycle-related gene expression. However, our network data suggest that leaf thickness in these two lines is patterned at least partially by distinct mechanisms. Consistent with this hypothesis, double homozygote lines combining introgression segments from these two ILs show additive phenotypes, including thick leaves, higher ploidy levels, and larger palisade mesophyll cells. Collectively, these data establish a framework of genetic, anatomical, and molecular mechanisms that pattern leaf thickness in desert-adapted tomato.