Asr (ABA, stress, ripening) genes represent a small gene family potentially involved in drought tolerance in several plant species. To analyze their interest for rice breeding for water-limited environments, this gene family was characterized further. Genomic organization of the gene family reveals six members located on four different chromosomes and with the same exon–intron structure. The maintenance of six members of the Asr gene family, which are the result of combination between tandem duplication and whole genome duplication, and their differential regulation under water stress, involves probably some sub-functionalization. The polymorphism of four members was studied in a worldwide collection of 204 accessions of Oryza sativa L. and 14 accessions of wild relatives (O. rufipogon and O. nivara). The nucleotide diversity of the Asr genes was globally low, but contrasted for the different genes, leading to different shapes of haplotype networks. Statistical tests for neutrality were used and compared to their distribution in a set of 111 reference genes spread across the genome, derived from another published study. Asr3 diversity exhibited a pattern concordant with a balancing selection at the species level and with a directional selection in the tropical japonica sub-group. This study provides a thorough description of the organization of the Asr family, and the nucleotide and haplotype diversity of four Asr in Oryza sativa species. Asr3 stood out as the best potential candidate. The polymorphism detected here represents a first step towards an association study between genetic polymorphisms of this gene family and variation in drought tolerance traits.
Theoretical and Applied Genetics (2010) 121 (4): 69-787 (DOI: 10.1007/s00122-010-1348-z)