Comparative transcriptomics-based selection of suitable reference genes for normalization of RT-qPCR experiments in drought-stressed leaves of three European Quercus species

  • Peter KotradeEmail author
  • Eva Maria Sehr
  • Elisabeth Wischnitzki
  • Wolfgang Brüggemann
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Gene Expression


Reference genes for normalization of reverse transcription quantitative real-time PCR (RT-qPCR) experiments were selected and evaluated for drought-stressed leaves of three European Quercus species (Q. ilex, Q. pubescens, and Q. robur). A drought experiment was conducted over the course of 2 years. In the first year, a comparative transcriptome analysis was conducted between control and drought-stressed plants in all three species. Based on this analysis, six genes which showed a low fold change and low individual variation of normalized expression values were selected as novel candidate reference genes. The six novel candidate genes were homologs of the serine/threonineprotein kinase At1g54610 (At1g54610), ATP synthase gamma chain (ATPC1), far-red elongated hypocotyl 3-like (FHY3), 50S ribosomal protein L13 (RPL13), serine/threonine-protein phosphatise PP1 (TOPP2), and splicing factor U2af small subunit B-like (U2AF35B). As a control, the two classical candidate reference genes glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) and elongation factor 1 alpha (EF1a) were included. Cross-species primers were designed for all candidate reference genes. The reference genes were evaluated in samples from three dates in the second year of the drought experiment. Four different algorithms (Bestkeeper, the comparative Ct method, geNorm, and Normfinder) were utilized to analyze expression stability. The results of the algorithms were summarized, and the most stable genes and optimal number of reference genes were identified for every species. These results demonstrated that, in each species, at least four of the novel reference genes are more stably expressed than the classical reference genes and that two reference genes are the optimal number for each species. One novel reference gene, At1g54610, was found to be among the two most stable reference genes across all three species; the second most stable gene was found to be TOPP2 in Q. ilex, U2AF35B in Q. pubescens, and FHY3 in Q. robur. Reference genes are crucial to normalize qPCR data and to identify stress-responsive genes, e.g., in the context of a search for drought-tolerant Quercus genotypes able to withstand the predicted increase of drought events in large parts of Europe during climate change.


RT-qPCR Reference genes RNA-Seq Drought stress Quercus Gene expression 


Data archiving statement

Assemblies were submitted to TSA (transcriptome shotgun assembly) database of NCBI ( The accession numbers are listed in Table S1. The complete data set from the RNA-Seq is accessible at NCBI under the reference SRP144916.

Funding information

This work was supported by the research-funding program “LOEWE – Landes-Offensive zur Entwicklung Wissenschaftlich-Ökonomischer Exzellenz” of the Hessian Ministry for Science and the Arts.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11295_2019_1347_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (28 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 27 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Evolution and DiversityGoethe University FrankfurtFrankfurtGermany
  2. 2.Center for Health and BioresourcesAIT Austrian Institute of Technology GmbHTullnAustria
  3. 3.Department of Ecology, Evolution and DiversityGoethe University Frankfurt and Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research CentreFrankfurtGermany

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