Multi-omics data provide insight into the adaptation of the glasshouse plant Rheum nobile to the alpine subnival zone

Ying Li, Zhimin Niu, Mingjia Zhu, Zhenyue Wang, Renping Xu, Minjie Li, Zeyu Zheng, Zhiqiang Lu, Congcong Dong, Hongyin Hu, Yingbo Yang, Ying Wu, Dandan Wang, Jinli Yang, Jin Zhang, Dongshi Wan, Richard Abbott, Jianquan Liu*, Yongzhi Yang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Subnival glasshouse plants provide a text-book example of high-altitude adaptation with reproductive organs enclosed in specialized semi-translucent bracts, monocarpic reproduction and continuous survival under stress. Here, we present genomic, transcriptomic and metabolomic analyses for one such plant, the Noble rhubarb (Rheum nobile). Comparative genomic analyses show that an expanded number of genes and retained genes from two recent whole-genome duplication events are both relevant to subnival adaptation of this species. Most photosynthesis genes are downregulated within bracts compared to within leaves, and indeed bracts exhibit a sharp reduction in photosynthetic pigments, indicating that the bracts no longer perform photosynthesis. Contrastingly, genes related to flavonol synthesis are upregulated, providing enhanced defense against UV irradiation damage. Additionally, anatomically abnormal mesophyll combined with the downregulation of genes related to mesophyll differentiation in bracts illustrates the innovation and specification of the glass-like bracts. We further detect substantial accumulation of antifreeze proteins (e.g. AFPs, LEAs) and various metabolites (e.g. Proline, Protective sugars, procyanidins) in over-wintering roots. These findings provide new insights into subnival adaptation and the evolution of glasshouse alpine plants.
Original languageEnglish
Article number906
Number of pages13
JournalCommunications Biology
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sept 2023


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