KEY MESSAGE: Transcript profiling during the early induction phase of oil palm tissue culture and RNAi studies in a model somatic embryogenesis system showed that EgENOD93 expression is essential for somatic embryogenesis. Micropropagation of oil palm through tissue culture is vital for the generation of superior and uniform elite planting materials. Studies were carried out to identify genes to distinguish between leaf explants with the potential to develop into embryogenic or non-embryogenic callus. Oil palm cDNA microarrays were co-hybridized with cDNA probes of reference tissue, separately with embryo forming (media T527) and non-embryo (media T694) forming leaf explants sampled at Day 7, Day 14 and Day 21. Analysis of the normalized datasets has identified 77, 115 and 127 significantly differentially expressed genes at Day 7, Day 14, and Day 21, respectively. An early nodulin 93 protein gene (ENOD93), was highly expressed at Day 7, Day 14, and Day 21 and in callus (media T527), as assessed by RT-qPCR. Validation of EgENOD93 across tissue culture lines of different genetic background and media composition showed the potential of this gene as an embryogenic marker. In situ RNA hybridization and functional characterization in Medicago truncatula provided additional evidence that ENOD93 is essential for somatic embryogenesis. This study supports the suitability of EgENOD93 as a marker to predict the potential of leaf explants to produce embryogenic callus. Crosstalk among stresses, auxin, and Nod-factor like signalling molecules likely induces the expression of EgENOD93 for embryogenic callus formation.
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