New publication: Length variation in short tandem repeats affects gene expression in natural populations of Arabidopsis thaliana

By William B. Reinar, Vilde O. Lalun, Trond Reitan, Kjetill S. Jakobsen, and Melinka A. Butenko in The Plant Cell


The genetic basis for the fine-tuned regulation of gene expression is complex and ultimately influences the phenotype and thus the local adaptation of natural populations. Short tandem repeats (STRs) consisting of repetitive DNA motifs have been shown to regulate gene expression. STRs are variable in length within a population and serve as a heritable, but semi-reversible, reservoir of standing genetic variation. For sessile organisms, such as plants, STRs could be of major importance in fine-tuning gene expression as a response to a shifting local environment. Here, we used a transcriptome dataset from natural accessions of Arabidopsis thaliana to investigate population-wide gene expression patterns in light of genome-wide STR variation. We empirically modeled gene expression as a response to the STR length within and around the gene and demonstrated that an association between gene expression and STR length variation is unequivocally present in the sampled population. To support our model, we explored the promoter activity in a transcriptional regulator involved in root hair formation and provided experimentally determined causality between coding sequence length variation and promoter activity. Our results support a general link between gene expression variation and STR length variation in A. thaliana.

Publication details

The Plant Cell
Article number koab107
DOI: 10.1093/plcell/koab107
Published: 12 April 2021
Publication webpage.


William B. Reinar1,2, Vilde O. Lalun1, Trond Reitan2, Kjetill S. Jakobsen2, and
Melinka A. Butenko1

  1. Section for Genetics and Evolutionary Biology, Department of Biosciences, University of Oslo, 0316 Oslo, Norway
  2. Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Department of Biosciences, University of Oslo, 0316 Oslo, Norway
Tags: The Plant Cell
Published May 11, 2021 10:32 AM - Last modified Sep. 27, 2021 12:07 PM