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Multi‐omics analysis to visualize the dynamic roles of defense genes in the response of tea plants to gray blight

SUMMARY Gray blight (GB) is one of the most destructive diseases of tea plants, causing considerable damage and productivity losses; however, the dynamic roles of defense genes during pathogen infection remain largely unclear. To explore the numerous molecular interactions associated with GB stress in tea plants, we employed transcriptome, sRNAome and degradome sequencing from 1 to 13 days post‐inoculation (dpi) at 3‐day intervals. The transcriptomics results showed that differentially expressed genes (DEGs) related to flavonoid synthesis, such as chalcone synthase (CHS) and phenylalanine ammonia‐lyase (PAL), were particularly induced at 4 dpi. Consistent with this, the contents of catechins (especially gallocatechin), which are the dominant flavonoids in tea plants, also increased in the leaves of tea plants infected with GB. Combined analysis of the sRNAome and degradome revealed that microRNAs could mediate tea plant immunity by regulating DEG expression at the post‐transcriptional level. Co‐expression network analysis demonstrated that miR530b‐ethylene responsive factor 96 (ERF96) and miRn211‐thaumatin‐like protein (TLP) play crucial roles in the response to GB. Accordingly, gene‐specific antisense oligonucleotide assays suggested that suppressing ERF96 decreased the levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), whereas suppressing TLP increased the levels of ROS. Furthermore, ERF96 was induced, but TLP was suppressed, in susceptible tea cultivars. Our results collectively demonstrate that ERF96 is a negative regulator and TLP is a positive regulator in the response of tea plants to GB. Taken together, our comprehensive integrated analysis reveals a dynamic regulatory network linked to GB stress in tea plants and provides candidate genes for improvement of tea plants.

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