Cassava is an important tropical and sub-tropical root crop that is adapted to drought environment. However, severe drought stress significantly influences biomass accumulation and starchy root production. The mechanism underlying drought-tolerance remains obscure in cassava. In this study, changes of physiological characters and gene transcriptome profiles were investigated under dehydration stress simulated by polyethylene glycol (PEG) treatments. Five traits, including peroxidase (POD) activity, proline content, malondialdehyde (MDA), soluble sugar and soluble protein, were all dramatically induced in response to PEG treatment. RNA-seq analysis revealed a gradient decrease of differentially expressed (DE) gene number in tissues from bottom to top of a plant, suggesting that cassava root has a quicker response and more induced/depressed DE genes than leaves in response to drought. Overall, dynamic changes of gene expression profiles in cassava root and leaves were uncovered: genes related to glycolysis, abscisic acid and ethylene biosynthesis, lipid metabolism, protein degradation, and second metabolism of flavonoids were significantly induced, while genes associated with cell cycle/organization, cell wall synthesis and degradation, DNA synthesis and chromatin structure, protein synthesis, light reaction of photosynthesis, gibberelin pathways and abiotic stress were greatly depressed. Finally, novel pathways in ABA-dependent and ABA-independent regulatory networks underlying PEG-induced dehydration response in cassava were detected, and the RNA-Seq results of a subset of fifteen genes were confirmed by real-time PCR. The findings will improve our understanding of the mechanism related to dehydration stress-tolerance in cassava and will provide useful candidate genes for breeding of cassava varieties better adapted to drought environment.
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