Abstract

Rhododendron micranthum is an evergreen shrub species widely distributed in China that has high ornamental and medicinal value. However, there is a lack of molecular and genomic data for this plant, which severely restricts the development of its relevant research. The objective of the present study was to conduct a first genomic survey of R. micranthum and determine its whole-genome sequencing scheme. Next-generation sequencing (Illumina Hi-Seq Xten) was used to measure the genome size of R. micranthum, K-mer analysis were employed to investigate its genomic profile. Finally, we conducted bioinformatics methods to performed SSR (simple sequence repeat) prediction based on the genomic data. The genome size of R. micranthum was estimated to be 554.22 Mb. The heterozygosity ratio was 0.93%, and the sequence repeat ratio was calculated to be 49.17%. The clean reads of R. micranthum were assembled into 2281551 scaffolds with a N50 value of 916 bp. A total of 479724 SSR molecular markers were identified in the R. micranthum genome, and 871656 pairs of primers designed for application. Among of them, 100 primer pairs were validated, and 71 primer pairs were successfully amplified. In summary, the R. micranthum genome is complex with high heterozygosity and low repeated sequences. In future whole-genome research in R. micranthum, higher-depth ‘2+3’ (Illumina+PacBio) sequencing may yield better assembly results.

Introduction

Rhododendron micranthum is an evergreen shrub species belonging to the genus Rhododendron in the family Ericaceae (Figure 1). It is widely distributed in China, growing on the hillsides of thickets, valleys, cliffs, and rocks at an elevation of 1000–3000 m [1]. Compared with other rhododendrons, R. micranthum not only has strong ornamental value, but also has high medicinal value [2]. However, the current research in R. micranthum mainly focuses on chemical composition analysis and artificial cultivation [3–5], and molecular-level research has not yet been carried out.

Leaves and inflorescences of R. micranthum in the Longyuwan National Forest Park of China (33°42′28″ N, 111°45′20″ E)

Figure 1
Leaves and inflorescences of R. micranthum in the Longyuwan National Forest Park of China (33°42′28″ N, 111°45′20″ E)
Figure 1
Leaves and inflorescences of R. micranthum in the Longyuwan National Forest Park of China (33°42′28″ N, 111°45′20″ E)

Genome contains all the information of controlling biological characters and ultimately determines the transmission of genetic material. The genomic content, also known as the C value, refers to the DNA content of the haploid nucleus of a species. More and more studies have found that biological genome information is related to physiological functions [6]. To explore the genes related to the effective components and excellent agronomic characters of plants, and analyze the metabolic pathway and regulatory mechanism from the genome-wide level can lay the foundation for the improvement of medicinal plant varieties and the protection of genetic resources [7]. In the present study, Illumina Hi-Seq technology combined with K-mer analysis was used to evaluate the genome size and characteristics of R. micranthum, which laid the foundation for fine sequencing of the whole genome and will be conducive to further understand its pharmacological effect. SSR (simple sequence repeat) molecular markers have the characteristics of abundant quantity, high polymorphism, co-dominance, and easy automatic analysis. The SSRs developed based on R. micranthum genomic survey are helpful to germplasm resources identification, genetic breeding and provides the molecular basis for the conservation and utilization of its gene resources.

Materials and methods

Plant materials and genome sequencing

Leaf samples from a single individual R. micranthum were collected from Longyuwan National Forest Park in Luanchuan Country. After disinfection and cleaning with 70% alcohol, leaves were subjected to the total genomic DNA isolation by the CTAB (cetyltrimethylammonium bromide) method [8]. The DNA were electrophoresed on 1% agarose gel electrophoresis and the samples were subsequently quantified by a 2100 Bioanalyzer system (Exon Biotech).

The R. micranthum DNA samples of suitable quality were randomly sheared into 300–350 bp fragments using an ultrasonicator (Covaris Inc, U.S.A.). Electrophoresis was used to recover the DNA fragments of required lengths before end-repair, following with poly A-tail and sequencing adapters were added. The obtained fragments with a length of ∼350 bp were used to construct two paired-end DNA libraries, and then sequenced with a read length of 2 × 150 bp using the Illumina HiSeq XTen platform, according to the manufacturer’s protocol. After we filtered reads that would interfere with subsequent information, reads with an N (unable to determine base information) ratio greater than 10%, reads with adapters, duplicated reads caused by PCR amplification, and low-quality reads from the raw reads, clean reads underlying all following analyses were acquired. High-quality Illumina sequencing reads were submitted to the NCBI Short Read Archive (accession number: PRJNA613232).

Genome size estimation and genome survey

The clean data with high-quality reads were used for K-mer analysis. Based on K-mer (k = 17) frequency distributions, we used GENOMESCOPE to estimate the characteristics of the genome (genome size, repeat content and heterozygosity rate) [9]. The filtered reads were aligned to assembled sequence using SOAP to obtain the base depth. The 10 kb non-overlapping sliding windows along the assembled sequence were used to calculate GC content and sequencing depth [10].

Analysis of SSR molecular markers

The assembled genome sequences were searched for microsatellite loci using MIcroSAtellite identification tool (MISA) program [11,12]. The parameters were set based on the minimum number of iterations: 4 repeat units for hexa-, penta-, and tetranucelotides, 5 for trinucleotides, 6 for dinucleotides, and 10 for mononucleotides. Primer pairs were designed using the Primer 3 software in the flanking regions of SSRs [13]. To validate the designed primers, a total of 100 primer pairs that motif length more than 20 bp were synthesized and PCR was carried out for amplification. The PCR procedure was carried out in 10 μl volume containing 20 ng of genomic DNA, 0.25 μM of forward and reverse primers and 5 μl of 2 × PCR Mixture (Tiangen, Beijing, China) with conditions as follows: denaturation for 5 min at 94°C followed by 30 cycles of 50 s at 94°C, 45 s for annealing at 60°C and 1 min at 72°C, and a final extension at 72°C for 10 min. Amplification products were resolved by 10% PAGE (polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis) and visualized by silver staining. The size of each SSR-PCR products was determined in comparison with pBR322 DNA/MspI marker (Tiangen, Beijing, China) [14].

Results and discussion

Sequencing and quality evaluation of R. micranthum

After filtering and correction, a total of 60.05 Gb of R. micranthum clean bases were obtained with the Q20 and Q30 values were 96.6% and 90.9% respectively. Figure 2 shows the proportion of single bases, which is used to detect whether AT and GC separation is present. It can be seen that the content of A and G and C and T are close. The results demonstrated that the sequencing quality was good. We randomly selected 1000 clean reads as a query sequence with BLAST (The Basic Local Alignment Search Tool) against the NT (Nucleotide Sequence Database) from the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), the top five species for comparison are Rhododendron simsii (1.43%), Camellia sinensis (1.32%), Vaccinium macrocarpon (0.69%), Vitis vinifera (0.26%), and Empetrum rubrum (0.18%). The results showed that there was no contamination from other species.

Distribution figure of AT and GC content

Figure 2
Distribution figure of AT and GC content
Figure 2
Distribution figure of AT and GC content

Genome size estimation by K-mer analysis

All the clean data were performed on K-mer analysis. For the 17-mer frequency distribution (Figure 3), the number of K-mers was 49015508228 and the peak depth distribution was set at 86×. The estimated genome size was 570.17 Mb, which was calculated via the following formula: Genome size = K-mer num/K-mer depth [15]. Then, the genome size was reformulated by excluding the K-mer error, and the revised genome size was 554.22Mb. After computed the proportion of heterozygous sites in the sequence, we obtained a gene heterozygosity ratio of 0.93%. By calculating the percentage of 1.8-times the number of K-mers after the main peak over the total number of K-mers, we obtained the genome sequence repeat ratio percentage for R. micranthum was 49.17% (Table 1).

Distribution curve of K-mer (k = 17) of R. micranthum

Figure 3
Distribution curve of K-mer (k = 17) of R. micranthum
Figure 3
Distribution curve of K-mer (k = 17) of R. micranthum
Table 1
Genome estimation based on K-mer statistics
SampleK-mer numberK-mer depthGenome size (Mb)Revised genome size (Mb)Heterozygous ratio (%)Repeat (%)
R. micranthum 49015508228 86× 570.17 554.22 0.93 49.17 
SampleK-mer numberK-mer depthGenome size (Mb)Revised genome size (Mb)Heterozygous ratio (%)Repeat (%)
R. micranthum 49015508228 86× 570.17 554.22 0.93 49.17 

Genome survey gives a preliminary understanding of the genomic characteristics before large-scale genome sequencing for one species. Genome size, is usually described using the C-value, refers to the DNA content of all biological haploids. The C-value shows species-specific characteristics and is constant for every species [16]. The genome size is related to different biological parameters, such as cell size and cell cycle, economic characteristics, and stress resistance. And studies have found that genome size plays an important role in plant evolution and adaptation [17]. K-mer estimation of genome survey was successfully applied in the prediction of genome sizes for many non-model plant species, such as Apocynum venetum [17], Betula platyphylla [18], Ammopiptanthus mongolicus [19], and Liriodendron chinense [20]. There is great variation in genome sizes among angiosperms, the largest genome species is Paris japonica, with a genome size of 150 Gb [21], while the smallest genome species is Genlisea tuberosa, with a genome size of 61 Mb [22]. In the present study, The genome size of R. micranthum was close to the size of R. indicum (567 Mb) [23], but smaller than R. simsii (608 Mb) [23], R. delavayi (695.09 Mb) [24], and R. williamsianum (650.8 Mb) [25]. The genome survey of R. micranthum has provided a solid foundation for its whole-genome sequencing, and promote the exploration of its medicinal value.

The genome of plants can be divided into high heterozygosity (heterozygosity ratio ≥0.8%) and low heterozygosity (0.5% ≤ heterozygosity ratio <0.8%), low repetitive genomes (repeated ratio <50%) and highly repetitive genome (repeated ratio ≥50%) [26]. This preliminary analysis determined the R. micranthum genome to have heterozygosity ratio of 0.93%. K-mer distribution curve obtained repeated sequence percentage of 49.17%. Thus, R. micranthum genome is complex with high heterozygosity and low repeated sequences. It is difficult to assemble a genome if the heterozygosity rate is higher than 0.5% [15]. The characteristics of the R. micranthum genome might impact the accuracy of genome size estimation. This was the reason that revision of the genome size was performed. Repeated sequences are one of the major factors that control the recombination and regulation of structural genes [17], and the further investigation is required to understand the functions of repeated sequences in R. micranthum.

Genome assembly and GC content analysis

The clean reads were used for de novo genome assembly of R. micranthum, and a K-mer value of 41 was selected to construct the contig and scaffold. A total of 757117087 bp scaffolds were derived, with a N50 scaffold value of 916 bp (Table 2). The N50/N90 of the contigs/scaffolds were derived by ordering all sequences, adding all the contigs/scaffolds from the longest to the shortest and when the added length reached 50%/90% of the total length of all contigs/scaffolds, the length of the last added contig/scaffold was the N50/N90 [27].

Table 2
Statistics of assembled genome sequences for R. micranthum
Total length (bp)Total numberTotal number (≥2 kb)Max length (bp)N50 (bp)N90 (bp)
Contig 845872500 2307871 65029 46257 794 114 
Scaffold 757117087 2281551 61736 46157 916 124 
Total length (bp)Total numberTotal number (≥2 kb)Max length (bp)N50 (bp)N90 (bp)
Contig 845872500 2307871 65029 46257 794 114 
Scaffold 757117087 2281551 61736 46157 916 124 

The average sequencing depth and GC content of the R. micranthum genome were plotted along the assembled contigs which length more than 200 bp (Figure 4). The density points were only concentrated in the 30–50% range, and the average GC content was 40.4%. Shangguan et al. summarized that GC contents of plant genomes mostly range within 30–47% [28]. The GC content of the R. micranthum genome is 40.4%, which is like R. simsii and R. indicum (39%) [23]. It is higher than that of Medicago sativa and Malus pumila, which have a GC content of less than 30%, but is lower than that of Sorghum bicolor, Zea mays, and Oryza sativa which have a GC content of more than 40% [16].

Average sequencing depth and GC content of R. micranthum genome data

Figure 4
Average sequencing depth and GC content of R. micranthum genome data

For the bar graphs, the x-axis is sequencing depth distribution and the y-axis is GC content distribution. For the spot graphs, the x-axis is GC content and the y-axis is sequencing depth.

Figure 4
Average sequencing depth and GC content of R. micranthum genome data

For the bar graphs, the x-axis is sequencing depth distribution and the y-axis is GC content distribution. For the spot graphs, the x-axis is GC content and the y-axis is sequencing depth.

SSR identification

Recently, SSRs consist of 1–6 motifs are utilized as molecular marker in many studies of genetic maps and genetic populations [29]. The repetitive sequence of genomic DNA not only affects the advanced structure of chromosomes but is also very useful in genome evolution and rearrangement [30,31]. The assembled contigs of R. micranthum were searched for SSR markers by using the MISA software (http://pgrc.ipk-gatersleben.de/misa/misa.html). A total of 479,724 SSRs were identified. Among these SSRs, the mononucleotide was the most abundant SSR marker, accounting for 54.47% (261,325) of the total SSR markers, which was followed by di- (189,454, 39.39%), tri- (24,369, 5.08%), tetra- (2675, 0.56%), penta- (1043, 0.22%), and hexanucleotide (858, 0.18%) SSRs (Table 3). There was a large proportion of both mononucleotide and dinucleotide SSR markers which amounted to 93.86%.

Table 3
Characteristics of SSR markers for R. micranthum genome
Repeat numberSSR type
MononucleotideDinucleotideTrinucleotideTetranucleotidePentanucleotideHexanucleotideTotal
– – 13681 1797 808 557 16843 
– 40777 5189 554 174 167 46861 
– 27838 2462 197 45 66 30608 
– 21967 1172 70 11 27 23247 
– 17040 679 32 12 17766 
10 86706 13808 445 – 100971 
11 49577 11103 256 10 60952 
12 32902 9324 158 – 42394 
13 23281 8297 118 – – 31697 
14 17659 7726 68 – – – 25453 
15 14670 6649 37 – – 21359 
≥16 36530 24925 104 – 61572 
Total 261325 189454 24369 2675 1043 858 479724 
Repeat numberSSR type
MononucleotideDinucleotideTrinucleotideTetranucleotidePentanucleotideHexanucleotideTotal
– – 13681 1797 808 557 16843 
– 40777 5189 554 174 167 46861 
– 27838 2462 197 45 66 30608 
– 21967 1172 70 11 27 23247 
– 17040 679 32 12 17766 
10 86706 13808 445 – 100971 
11 49577 11103 256 10 60952 
12 32902 9324 158 – 42394 
13 23281 8297 118 – – 31697 
14 17659 7726 68 – – – 25453 
15 14670 6649 37 – – 21359 
≥16 36530 24925 104 – 61572 
Total 261325 189454 24369 2675 1043 858 479724 

Among the mononucleotide repeats, A/T ratios were greater than the G/C ratio, accounting for 98.17% of the total number of repeat units. Among the dinucleotide repeats, the number of GA/TC repeats was the highest (73194), accounting for 38.63%, followed by AT/TA repeats (28775, 15.19%), while CG/GC repeats were lowest (912), accounting for only 0.48% of the total number of repeats. Among the trinucleotides, the number of CAC/GTG repeats was the highest (2932), accounting for 12.03% of the total. In the present study, a total of 290552 sequences that include SSRs suit to designed primers. Three pairs of primers were designed for each sequence and 871656 pairs of primers designed for application. To validate the SSR markers, 100 primer pairs were synthesized and tested for PCR amplification, and 71 primer pairs were successfully amplified and exhibited expected sizes (Figure 5). Information on the 71 pairs of primers was shown in Supplementary Table S1.

SSR-PCR amplification profile of R. micranthum

Figure 5
SSR-PCR amplification profile of R. micranthum

M is the DNA marker pBR322 DNA/MspI. RM-58, RM-59, RM-60, etc. are primer numbers.

Figure 5
SSR-PCR amplification profile of R. micranthum

M is the DNA marker pBR322 DNA/MspI. RM-58, RM-59, RM-60, etc. are primer numbers.

A large number of genome-wide SSR loci have provided a foundation for the further construction of high-density genetic maps and the study of the regulatory mechanisms of medicinal ingredients for R. micranthum. This also provides a good reference for molecular marker and future genome research.

Conclusion

This is the first study to measure the size of the R. micranthum genome and preliminarily assess the corresponding parameters. The genomic characteristics of R. micranthum include a genome size of 554.22 Mbp, a heterozygosis rate of 0.93%, and a repeat rate of 49.17%. A total of 479724 SSR markers were developed from the R. micranthum genome data and 871656 pairs of primers were designed. These results and dataset may provide a new resource for future genomic analysis, molecular breeding, and key genes analysis for effective components synthesis in R. micranthum.

Competing Interests

The authors declare that there are no competing interests associated with the manuscript.

Funding

This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China [grant number 31870697]; and the Natural Science Foundation of Henan Province [grant number 182300410085].

Author Contribution

X.J.Z. designed the experiments, analyzed the data, and wrote the manuscript. X.Y.L and S.S.S. prepared the sample. M.X.L., Y.W.C., and H.Y.Y. revised the manuscript. All authors approved the final manuscript.

Abbreviations

     
  • MISA

    MIcroSAtellite

  •  
  • SSR

    simple sequence repeat

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