Researcher, Centre for Excellence in Molecular Biology, University of the Punjab Lahore.


Working on CRISPR cas9 for genome editing to study genes associated with abiotic stress tolerance.

I am Nadeem Hafeez from Lahore, Pakistan. Currently, I am working as Researcher at Center for Excellence in Molecular Biology (CEMB), Lahore, Pakistan. I have expertise in gene editing, cloning and plant transformation; I have developed a first triple gene genetically engineered cotton variety of Pakistan, which confers significant resistance against biotic and abiotic stresses. I have utilized E.coli and yeast expression models to screen mutated genes before transformation in plants. I am currently doing a research project in abiotic tolerance of cotton to learn more about reverse genetics.


The Arabidopsis Cys2/His2 zinc finger transcription factor ZAT18 is a positive regulator of plant tolerance to drought stress.

Abstract: Environmental stress poses a global threat to plant growth and reproduction, especially drought stress. Zinc finger proteins comprise a family of transcription factors that play essential roles in response to various abiotic stresses. Here, we found that ZAT18 (At3g53600), a nuclear C2H2 zinc finger protein, was transcriptionally induced by dehydration stress. Overexpression (OE) of ZAT18 in Arabidopsis improved drought tolerance while mutation of ZAT18 resulted in decreased plant tolerance to drought stress. ZAT18 was preferentially expressed in stems, siliques, and vegetative rosette leaves. Subcellular location results revealed that ZAT18 protein was predominantly localized in the nucleus. ZAT18 OE plants exhibited less leaf water loss, lower content of reactive oxygen species (ROS), higher leaf water content, and higher antioxidant enzyme activities after drought treatment when compared with the wild type (WT). RNA sequencing analysis showed that 423 and 561 genes were transcriptionally modulated by the ZAT18 transgene before and after drought treatment, respectively. Pathway enrichment analysis indicated that hormone metabolism, stress, and signaling were over-represented in ZAT18 OE lines. Several stress-responsive genes including COR47, ERD7, LEA6, and RAS1, and hormone signaling transduction-related genes including JAZ7 and PYL5 were identified as putative target genes of ZAT18. Taken together, ZAT18 functions as a positive regulator and plays a crucial role in the plant response to drought stress.

Pub.: 07 Jun '17, Pinned: 07 Aug '17

A meta-analysis of quantitative trait loci for abiotic and biotic stress resistance in tetraploid cotton.

Abstract: The number and location of mapped quantitative trait loci (QTL) depend on genetic populations and testing environments. The identification of consistent QTL across genetic backgrounds and environments is a pre-requisite to marker-assisted selection. This study analyzed a total of 661 abiotic and biotic stress resistance QTL based on our previous work and other publications using the meta-analysis software Biomercator. It identified chromosomal regions containing QTL clusters for different resistance traits and hotspots for a particular resistance trait in cotton from 98 QTL for drought tolerance under greenhouse (DT) and 150 QTL in field conditions (FDT), 80 QTL for salt tolerance in the greenhouse conditions (ST), 201 QTL for resistance to Verticillium wilt (VW, Verticillium dahliae), 47 QTL for resistance to Fusarium wilt (FW, Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. vasinfectum), and 85 QTL for resistance to root-knot nematodes (RKN, Meloiodogyne incognita) and reniform nematodes (RN, Rotylenchulus reniformis). The traits used in QTL mapping for abiotic stress tolerance included morphological traits-plant height and fresh and dry shoot and root weights, physiological traits-chlorophyll content, osmotic potential, carbon isotope ratio, stomatal conductance, photosynthetic rate, transpiration, canopy temperature, and leaf area index, agronomic traits-seedcotton yield, lint yield, boll weight, and lint percent, and fiber quality traits-fiber length, uniformity, strength, elongation, and micronaire. The results showed that resistance QTL are not uniformly distributed across the cotton genome; some chromosomes carried disproportionally more QTL, QTL clusters, or hotspots. Twenty-three QTL clusters were found on 15 chromosomes (c3, c4, c5, c6, c7, c11, c14, c15, c16, c19, c20, c23, c24, c25, and c26). Moreover, 28 QTL hotshots were associated with different resistance traits including one hotspot on c4 for Verticillium wilt resistance, two QTL hotspots on c24 for chlorophyll content measured under both drought and salt stress conditions, and three other hotspots on c19 for the resistance to Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilt, and micronaire under drought stress conditions. This meta-analysis of stress tolerance QTL provides an important foundation for cotton breeding and further studies on the genetic mechanisms of abiotic and biotic stress resistance in cotton.

Pub.: 26 Jun '17, Pinned: 07 Aug '17

Profiling of drought-responsive microRNA and mRNA in tomato using high-throughput sequencing.

Abstract: Abiotic stresses cause severe loss of crop production. Among them, drought is one of the most frequent environmental stresses, which limits crop growth, development and productivity. Plant drought tolerance is fine-tuned by a complex gene regulatory network. Understanding the molecular regulation of this polygenic trait is crucial for the eventual success to improve plant yield and quality. Recent studies have demonstrated that microRNAs play critical roles in plant drought tolerance. However, little is known about the microRNA in drought response of the model plant tomato. Here, we described the profiling of drought-responsive microRNA and mRNA in tomato using high-throughput next-generation sequencing.Drought stress was applied on the seedlings of M82, a drought-sensitive cultivated tomato genotype, and IL9-1, a drought-tolerant introgression line derived from the stress-resistant wild species Solanum pennellii LA0716 and M82. Under drought, IL9-1 performed superior than M82 regarding survival rate, H2O2 elimination and leaf turgor maintenance. A total of four small RNA and eight mRNA libraries were constructed and sequenced using Illumina sequencing technology. 105 conserved and 179 novel microRNAs were identified, among them, 54 and 98 were differentially expressed upon drought stress, respectively. The majority of the differentially-expressed conserved microRNAs was up-regulated in IL9-1 whereas down-regulated in M82. Under drought stress, 2714 and 1161 genes were found to be differentially expressed in M82 and IL9-1, respectively, and many of their homologues are involved in plant stress, such as genes encoding transcription factor and protein kinase. Various pathways involved in abiotic stress were revealed by Gene Ontology and pathway analysis. The mRNA sequencing results indicated that most of the target genes were regulated by their corresponding microRNAs, which suggested that microRNAs may play essential roles in the drought tolerance of tomato.In this study, numerous microRNAs and mRNAs involved in the drought response of tomato were identified using high-throughput sequencing, which will provide new insights into the complex regulatory network of plant adaption to drought stress. This work will also help to exploit new players functioning in plant drought-stress tolerance.

Pub.: 28 Jun '17, Pinned: 07 Aug '17

Improvement of drought tolerance by overexpressing MdATG18a is mediated by modified antioxidant system and activated autophagy in transgenic apple.

Abstract: Autophagy is a major and conserved pathway for delivering and recycling unwanted proteins or damaged organelles to be degraded in the vacuoles. AuTophGy-related (ATG) protein 18a has been established as one of the essential components for autophagy occurrence in Arabidopsis thaliana. We previously cloned the ATG18a homolog from Malus domestica (MdATG18a) and monitored its responsiveness to various abiotic stresses at the transcriptional level. However, it is still unclear what its function is under abiotic stress in apple. Here, we found that heterologous expression of MdATG18a in tomato plants markedly enhanced their tolerance to drought. Overexpression (OE) of that gene in apple plants improved their drought tolerance as well. Under drought conditions, the photosynthesis rate and antioxidant capacity were significantly elevated in OE lines when compared with the untransformed wild type (WT). Transcript levels of other important apple ATG genes were more strongly up-regulated in transgenic MdATG18a OE lines than in the WT. The percentage of insoluble protein in proportion to total protein was lower and less oxidized protein accumulated in the OE lines than in the WT under drought stress. This was probably due to more autophagosomes being formed in the former. These results demonstrate that overexpression of MdATG18a in apple plants enhances their tolerance to drought stress, probably because of greater autophagosome production and a higher frequency of autophagy. Those processes help degrade protein aggregation and limit the oxidation damage, thereby suggesting that autophagy plays important roles in the drought response. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Pub.: 14 Jul '17, Pinned: 07 Aug '17

Genetic engineering strategies for biotic and abiotic stress tolerance and quality enhancement in horticultural crops: a comprehensive review.

Abstract: Genetic engineering technique offers myriads of applications in improvement of horticultural crops for biotic and abiotic stress tolerance, and produce quality enhancement. During last two decades, a large number of transgenic horticultural crops has been developed and more are underway. A number of genes including natural and synthetic Cry genes, protease inhibitors, trypsin inhibitors and cystatin genes have been used to incorporate insect and nematode resistance. For providing protection against fungal and bacterial diseases, various genes like chitinase, glucanase, osmotin, defensin and pathogenesis-related genes are being transferred to many horticultural crops world over. RNAi technique has been found quite successful in inducing virus resistance in horticultural crops in addition to coat protein genes. Abiotic stresses such as drought, heat and salinity adversely affect production and productivity of horticultural crops and a number of genes encoding for biosynthesis of stress protecting compounds including mannitol, glycine betaine and heat shock proteins have been employed for abiotic stress tolerance besides various transcription factors like DREB1, MAPK, WRKY, etc. Antisense gene and RNAi technologies have revolutionized the pace of improvement of horticultural crops, particularly ornamentals for color modification, increasing shelf-life and reducing post-harvest losses. Precise genome editing tools, particularly CRISPR/Cas9, have been efficiently applied in tomato, petunia, citrus, grape, potato and apple for gene mutation, repression, activation and epigenome editing. This review provides comprehensive overview to draw the attention of researchers for better understanding of genetic engineering advancements in imparting biotic and abiotic stress tolerance as well as on improving various traits related to quality, texture, plant architecture modification, increasing shelf-life, etc. in different horticultural crops.

Pub.: 14 Jul '17, Pinned: 07 Aug '17

A Novel NAC Transcription Factor, PbeNAC1, of Pyrus betulifolia Confers Cold and Drought Tolerance via Interacting with PbeDREBs and Activating the Expression of Stress-Responsive Genes.

Abstract: NAC (NAM, ATAF, and CUC) transcription factors are important regulator in abiotic stress and plant development. However, knowledge concerning the functions of plant NAC TFs functioning in stress tolerance and the underlying molecular basis are still limited. In this study, we report functional characterization of the NAC TF, PbeNAC1, isolated from Pyrus betulifolia. PbeNAC1 were greatly induced by cold and drought, while salt stress had little effect on expression. PbeNAC1 was localized in the nuclei showed transactivation activity. Overexpression of PbeNAC1 conferred enhanced tolerance to multiple stresses, including cold and drought, as supported by lower levels of reactive oxygen species, higher survival rate, higher activities of enzymes, relative to wild-type (WT). In addition, steady-state mRNA levels of 15 stress-responsive genes coding for either functional or regulatory proteins were higher levels in the transgenic plants relative to the WT with drought or cold treatment. yeast two-hybrid (Y2H) and bimolecular fluorescence complementation (BiFC) assays showed that PbeNAC1 protein can physically interact with PbeDREB1 and PbeDREB2A. Taken together, these results demonstrate that pear PbeNAC1 plays an important role in improving stress tolerance, possibly by interacting with PbeDREB1 and PbeDREB2A to enhance the mRNA levels of some stress-associated genes.

Pub.: 18 Jul '17, Pinned: 07 Aug '17