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Molecular characterization and application of a novel cytoplasmic male sterility-associated mitochondrial sequence in rice



Cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) is a maternally inherited inability to produce functional pollen found in numerous flowering plant species. CMS is associated with mitochondrial DNA mutation, novel chimeric open reading frames (ORFs), and rearrangement of coding and noncoding regions of the mitochondrial genome.


BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool) analysis indicated that L-sp1, a new sequence-characterized amplified region, is non-homologous to atp6-orfH79 (or atp6-orf79) and WA352 cloned CMS-associated genes. L-sp1 was found in 11 of 102 wild rice accessions belonging to four AA genome species: Oryza rufipogon, Oryza nivara, Oryza glumaepatula, and Oryza meridionalis. Using L-sp1, two new CMS lines were developed, from either low natural fertility plants or sterile plants, by backcrossing BC1F1 with Yuetai B. Northern blot and RT-PCR revealed that L-sp1 was only expressed in the anthers of w1/YTB, w2/YTB, w1/YTB//YTB, and w2/YTB//YTB when in the same cytoplasm background.


L-sp1 is a single-copy chimeric CMS-associated gene found in the mitochondrial genome. It can be expressed in anthers with the same specific cytoplasm background, and will be a useful molecular marker for the development and marker-assisted selection of new CMS lines.


Cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) is found in numerous flowering plant species. It is maternally inherited, and causes production of non-functional pollen [1]. In many cases, rearrangement of mitochondrial DNA generates novel chimeric open reading frames (ORFs), resulting in expression of novel polypeptides. Chimeric ORFs are derived from coding and noncoding regions, and are located adjacent to genes coding normal mitochondrial function. The rearrangement of mitochondrial DNA can result in deletion and non-functionality of these mitochondrial genes [2]. Over 50 mitochondrial genes have been identified in various plant species [3-6]. In many species, male fertility can be restored using a nuclear fertility restorer (Rf) gene. The CMS/Rf system is widely used in the production of hybrid seeds as it eliminates the need for hand emasculation. Moreover, it makes an excellent model system for studying interactions between nuclear and mitochondrial genomes.

Rice (Oryza sativa L.) is an important crop, providing a major food source for about half of the world’s population. Since the discovery of the first CMS line [7], over 60 CMS lines, from various origins, have been developed from inter-species, inter-subspecies, and inter-varieties of Oryza plants with the AA genome [8]. CMS lines of rice are mainly divided into wild-abortive (WA), Honglian (HL), and Boro II (BT) groups according to distinctive cytological and genetic characteristics [9]. The WA-CMS system was broadly used for hybrid rice production in China by the end of the 20th century. Its irregularly shaped pollen aborts at the uninucleate stage with negative stainability in 1% I2-KI solution. Recent studies suggest that the mitochondrial gene, WA352, confers WA-CMS by interacting with the nuclear-encoded mitochondrial protein COX11. WA352-induced sterility can be suppressed using two restorer-of-fertility (Rf) genes [10]. BT-CMS is the most fully characterized CMS system in rice. Its pollen aborts at the trinucleate stage and is partly stainable in 1% I2-KI solution, revealing black spherical pollen grains. An unusual chimeric sequence called orf79 encodes a cytotoxic peptide in the mitochondrial genome of the BT-CMS line [11]. This chimeric sequence includes a small portion of the cox1 gene, and a sequence of unknown origin [12]. As a new germplasm source, HL-CMS has shown great potential for both hybrid rice production and nucleo-cytoplasmic interaction studies. Its spherically shaped pollen aborts at the dinucleate stage with negative stainability in 1% I2-KI solution. Previous studies revealed that coexpression of atp6-orfH79 might interfere with construction of F0F1-ATPase during microgenesis [13,14]. Recent studies have focused on the chimeric gene orfH79 in the HL-CMS line. This chimeric gene shows 97% similarity to orf79, and has a 6-base pair (bp) addition at the intercistronic linker between H-atp6 and orfH79 that is absent in orf79. It also encodes a cytotoxic peptide, and affects the development of male gametophytes and the roots [15,16].

Over 17 Rf or loci for different CMS systems have been reported in rice [11,17-24]. With regard to the HL-CMS/Rf system, Rf5 has been finely mapped on chromosome 10 [21]. It encodes a pentatricopeptide repeat protein, and it physically interacts with GRP162, a Gly-rich protein encoding 162 amino acids, to form a restoration of fertility complex that cleaves CMS-associated transcripts and restores fertility [25]. Another Rf6 gene has been mapped to a region of approximately 200 kb between markers RM3710 and RM22242 on the short arm of chromosome 8 [26]. Presently, three alleles or loci for HL-CMS have been identified in wild rice by genetic and allelic analyses [27]. A synergistic relationship exists between CMS and fertility-restoration-related genes in Oryza species [28], and the Rf allele interacts with CMS factors in a gene-for-gene manner [29-32]. Thus, other CMS-associated DNA sequences or factors are likely to occur in the HL-CMS/Rf system. In this study, we developed a novel sequence-characterized amplified region (SCAR) marker for L-sp1, a chimeric mitochondrial genomic DNA sequence, using random amplification of polymorphic DNA (RAPD) in mitochondrial genomic DNA. Furthermore, L-sp1 can be used for the development of new CMS lines and identification of new cytoplasmic backgrounds through marker-assisted selection (MAS).


Development and genetic analysis of SCAR marker

PCR amplification was performed using total genomic DNA of 28 accessions (Table 1) with 264 random primers (10 nucleotides). A 2100-bp product, named U-18/2100, was amplified when using the RAPD primer OPN U-18 (5′-GAGGTCCACA-3′) with DNA templates from YTA, CG-41A, HL-2, and C-M23 containing HL-type male sterile cytoplasm (Figure 1A). U-18/2100 was recovered, cloned, and sequenced according to TA-cloning protocols. Following U-18/2100 sequence analysis, a SCAR marker was developed and named as L-sp1 (specific primers, H1: 5’-GAGGTCCACATCCTTCAATC-3’; H2: 5’-AGGTCCACAAACCACTGAAG-3’). The genetic nature of the L-sp1 fragment was determined by PCR using total genomic DNA of plants from two different backcross populations: BC1F1s CG-41A//CG-41B/MY23 and YTA//YTB/9311. These two backgrounds display HL cytoplasmic male sterility and specific nuclear backgrounds (Figure 1B), as did plants from six different types of CMS lines (BC7F1) with similar SJB nucleic backgrounds (Figure 1C). The L-sp1 fragment was consistently amplified in all plants possessing the HL cytoplasmic male sterility background, and amplification remained constant with changes in the nucleic genome. L-sp1 can be inherited cytoplasmically or maternally, and has specificity for CMS. Based on characteristics of the cytoplasmic genes and the possible relationship between L-sp1 and CMS, we further verified stability and reliability of the SCAR marker using mitochondrial DNA from 18 out of 28 accessions (Table 1) with specific primers H1 and H2. The L-sp1 fragment could be amplified from mitochondrial genomic DNA of YTA, CG-41A, HL-2, and C-M23 (Figure 1D), suggesting that U-18/2100 is related to CMS.

Table 1 The three CMS rice types and F 1 offspring used in this study
Figure 1
figure 1

Genetic analysis and verification of L-sp1. A: PCR products amplified from genomic DNA of the studied accessions by OPN U-18. B: Amplified L-sp1 present in test-cross plants of YTA//YTB/9311 and CG-41A//CG-41B/MY23, and F2 plants of HL-2. C: Amplified L-sp1 fragment present in plants of different types of CMS lines with the same nucleic background. D: Mitochondrial genomic DNA amplified by L-sp1 primers. M: DNA marker DL2000. Numbers above the lanes match to the corresponding plant material No. listed in Table 1.

Molecular characterization of mitochondrial SCAR marker

To assay HL-CMS specificity and L-sp1 copy number, mitochondrial genomic DNA of CG-41A, YTA, HL-2, YAS, YTB, and of all accessions was digested with EcoRI or BamHI and hybridized with L-sp1 probe. A single fragment of 23 kb was found when using L-sp1 (2176 bp specific primer, H1: 5’-GAGGTCCACATCCTTCAATC-3’; H2: 5’-AGGTCCACAAACCACTGAAG-3’) and N-atp6 (S59890) probes (F: 5’-CAATCCTTGGTAGAGTG-3’; R: 5’-TAATGGCAGTGGGACTCC-3’) for all accessions following digestion with BamHI. The band was the same size in CG-41A, YTA, HL-2, and YAS, but smaller in YTB (Figure 2A and B). Three bands were detected when using the L-sp1 probe following digestion with EcoR1, there were two bands detected in CG-41A, YTA, HL-2, and YAS, and one band in YTB (Figure 2C). One band in YTB, and two bands in CG-41A, YTA, HL-2, and YAS were detected when using the N-atp6 probe following digestion with EcoR1 (Figure 2D). These results indicated that L-sp1 was single copy, and could be used as a characteristic molecular marker in the mitochondrial genome.

Figure 2
figure 2

Southern analysis. M: Lambda DNA/Hind III Marker. A, B: Mitochondrial genomic DNA of CG-41A, YTA, HL-2, and YTB, and YAS cut with BamHI. C, D: Mitochondrial genomic DNA of CG-41A, YTA, HL-2, and YTB, and YAS cut with EcoRI. A, C: Southern analysis with L-sp1 probes. B, D: Southern analysis with N-atp6 probes. L-sp1 probe was amplified using the sequence-specific primers H1 and H2, these contain one EcoRI restriction site and no BamHI restriction site. N-atp6 probe was amplified using sequence-specific primers F and R, and also contain one EcoRI restriction site and no BamHI restriction site. A part of L-sp1 probe is homologous to a part of the N-atp6 probe.

L-sp1 is a chimeric mitochondrial genomic DNA sequence of 2176 bp (HQ267715). When compared with the mitochondrial genomic DNA sequence, L-sp1 was determined to contain four Japonica rice (Nipponbare) DNA fragments (Figure 3A). Except for a 10-bp gap located between bp 1724 and 1725, the sequence from bp 1 to 1933 of L-sp1 showed 99% similarity to bp 224994 to 223054 of the NC_011033.1 clone. The L-sp1 sequence from bp 1684 to 1933 showed 99% similarity to bp 282437 to 282180 and 413358 to 413001 of the same clone. The L-sp1 sequence from bp 1934 to 2100 showed 99% similarity to bp 343650 to 343483 and 424737 to 424570 of the NC_011033.1 clone, and 100% similarity to the cDNA sequence located at 1062 to 1228 bp of the mitochondrial ribosomal protein L5 gene. The remaining 56-bp DNA sequence (bp 2119 to 2174) of L-sp1 was similar to bp 181916 to 181862 of the NC_011033.1 clone.

Figure 3
figure 3

Comparison of sequences among L-sp1, Nipponbare mtDNA, N-atp6, and atp6-orfH79. A: Sequence comparison between L-sp1 and Nipponbare mtDNA. B: Sequence comparison between L-sp1 and Indica WA-CMS mtDNA. C: Sequence comparison between L-sp1, N-atp6, atp6-orfH79, and WA352. Colored lines: homologous sequence. Black lines: non-homologous sequence.

Sequence comparison of sequences between L-sp1 and indica WA-CMS mitochondrial genomic DNA (Figure 3B) was as follows: the L-sp1 sequence from bp 1 to 1722 showed 98% similarity to bp 349531 to 351252 of JF281154.1; bp 1682 to 1931 showed 97% similarity to bp 37787 to 37530 and 219740 to 219997 of JF281154.1; and bp 1931 to 2098 of L-sp1 showed 100% similarity to bp 338549 to 338716 of JF281154.1. Other sequences shared no homology to the indica WA-CMS mitochondrial genome.

BLAST analysis of L-sp1, WA352 (AGG40956), N-atp6, and atp6-orfH79 sequences [25] revealed that L-sp1 sequences from bp 1 to 392 were entirely homologous to the 3’ flanking sequence of the ORF of N-atp6. Other DNA sequences showed no homology between L-sp1 and N-atp6. Furthermore, L-sp1 was non-homologous to the total DNA sequences of both atp6-orfH79 and WA352 (Figure 3C).

Distribution of L-sp1 in the AA genome of wild rice

To determine the distribution of L-sp1 in the AA genome of wild rice, PCR amplification was performed using L-sp1 sequence-specific primers H1 and H2. Bands of approximately 2176 bp, the same size as those in YTA, were found in 11 of 102 investigated wild rice accessions (Figure 4A). These 11 accessions belonged to four species: three from O. rufipogon (103423, 105696, 105698), five from O. nivara (101978, 103415, 103835, 105712, 106153), two from O. glumaepatula (100968, 105661), and one from O. meridionalis (82042), these accessions came from Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Brazil, Bangladesh and Laos in Southeast Asia, West Africa, South America, and Oceania, respectively. To analyze the distribution of orfH79 in the 11 wild rice accessions, PCR was performed using orfH79 sequence-specific primers (O1: 5′-ATGACAAATCTGCTCCGAT-3′; O2: 5′-TTACTTAGGAAAGACTACAC-3′). This revealed that 9 of the 11 wild accessions amplified the same sized band, approximately 240 bp, as YTA, while the other two accessions (103423, 105698) failed to amplify a PCR product (Figure 4B).

Figure 4
figure 4

Distribution of L-sp1 in wild rice and determination of cytoplasmic background of HL-type hybrid seeds. A: Distribution of L-sp1 in wild rice. B: Distribution of orfH79 (orf79) in wild rice. YTA and the 11 strains of wild rice correspond to those listed in Additional file 1: Table S1. M: DNA marker DL2000.

Development of new CMS lines via backcrosses from accessions containing L-sp1

To validate whether L-sp1 was related to CMS at the molecular genetic level, an interspecies cross was performed using two accessions (103423 and 105698, now named w1 and w2, respectively) carrying L-sp1 as maternal parents with YTB. Fertility analysis revealed the percentage of stainable pollen grains of the F1 hybrids w1/YTB and w2/YTB were 10.3% ± 1.5% and 15.8% ± 2.3%, respectively; over 50% of abortive pollen grains were spherical (Figure 5). The seed-setting rates of bagged spikelets for the same crosses were 13.6% ± 1.5% and 23.5% ± 2.5%, respectively (Table 2). To elucidate whether male sterility of the test-cross derived from potential incompatibility between species or subspecies, the HL maintainer YTB was crossed as a female parent with w1 and w2. Fertility assessment revealed that YTB/w1 and YTB/w2 were both fertile (~80% pollen fertility; ~50% seed-setting fertility). This indicated that the fertility of crosses between wild rice and YTB was mainly influenced by the cytoplasm genome as opposed to the nuclear genome in wild rice. Next, fertility of populations derived from BC1F1 backcrosses of w1/YTB//YTB and w2/YTB//YTB were examined; the spherical abortive grain rate increased from ~25% to ~85%, and fertility of pollen and seed-setting was clearly reduced (Figure 5). Therefore, two new CMS lines could be developed from low fertility and sterile plants belonging to BC1F1 (w1/YTB//YTB and w2/YTB//YTB) or BCnF1 (n, generation number of backcross) maternal parents, by successive backcrossing with YTB.

Figure 5
figure 5

Pollen microspores. Bars = 50 μm.

Table 2 Fertility analysis of hybrid F 1 and BC 1 F 1 backcrossed lines

Genetic and transcript analysis of L-sp1 in new CMS lines

PCR amplifications were performed using mtDNA from YTA, YTB, w1/YTB, w2/YTB, YTB/w1, YTB/w2, w1/YTB//YTB, and w2/YTB//YTB plants. When using L-sp1 specific primers H1 and H2, an L-sp1 amplicon was observed in plants with the same cytoplasmic background as w1 and w2 (w1/YTB, w2/YTB, w1/YTB//YTB, and w2/YTB//YTB), while the L-sp1 amplicon was not amplified from plants with a different cytoplasm background than w1 and w2 (YTB, YTB/w1, and YTB/w2). This revealed that L-sp1 showed cytoplasmic or maternal inheritance. In addition, the HL-CMS gene orfH79 was not amplified from the above plants (with the exception of YTA) when using the orfH79 primer set (O1 and O2) (Figure 6A).

Figure 6
figure 6

Genetic and transcript analysis of L-sp1 in the newly developed CMS lines. A: Genetic analysis: A1, Genetic pattern of L-sp1; A2, Genetic pattern of orfH79. B: Transcript analysis. M: DNA markers: 250-bp DNA ladder/DL2000. w1: accession 103423; w2: accession 105698.

To examine the expression manner of L-sp1 in the F1 and backcrossed BC1F1 w1 and w2 backgrounds, RT-PCR was performed using total RNA from rice anthers with L-sp1 as probe. L-sp1 was found to be expressed in the anthers of w1/YTB, w2/YTB, w1/YTB//YTB, and w2/YTB//YTB in a similar manner to YTA (Figure 6B).


The DNA sequence analysis results suggest no homologous sequence exists between L-sp1 and orfH79 or atp6-orfH79. In wild rice, 19 of 102 investigated wild rice accessions could amplify PCR products of ~240 bp when using orfH79 sequence-specific primers O1 and O2, a similar product was amplified from YTA. Sequencing of these 19 PCR fragments revealed that eight of the DNA sequences had the same single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) as orf79 in BT-CMS [12], while the remaining 11 accessions had the same SNP as orfH79 in HL-CMS [33]. In addition, a 2176-bp fragment amplified from L-sp1 specific primers was found present in 11 of 102 wild rice accessions. Nine of these eleven accessions (82042, 101978, 103415, 103835, 105712, 106153, 106321, 100968, and 105661) contain both orfH79 and L-sp1 sequences, while the other two accessions (103423, 105698) contain only L-sp1. Previous studies documented four completely sterile alloplasmic CMS lines (w15A, w20A, w34A, w46A), developed from w15 (101971), w20 (103836), w34 (105419), and w46 (106321) by successive recurrent backcrossing of sterile plants from a BC1F1 population with the HL maintainer YTB, respectively [34]. Using the same method, two nearly sterile CMS lines were developed from w1 and w2 accessions carrying L-sp1.

Recent studies revealed CMS-associated mitotypes are compatible with Rf-candidate-related nucleotypes, and CMS and Rf have a parallel evolutionary relationship in Oryza [28]. Several studies suggest that different Rf alleles interact with CMS in a gene-for-gene manner. Therefore, various Rf loci are determined by the multiple CMS systems existing in the natural populations within plant species [29-32]. We plan to further analyze the restoration and maintenance relationship, and the fertility restoring model of the two CMS lines developed in this study.


L-sp1 is a 2176-bp CMS-associated chimeric and single-copy DNA fragment found in the mitochondrial genome. It could be expressed in the anthers of all low natural fertility plants or sterile plants with a similar cytoplasm background. Therefore, L-sp1 can be used for both identification of the cytoplasmic background in marker-assisted selection programs and in the development of new CMS lines.


Plant materials

One hundred and two accessions of AA-genome wild rice were obtained from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI; Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines; Additional file 1: Table S1). These included 22 parent plants, F1 hybrids obtained from three types of CMS/Rf system (HL-, WA-, and BT-type), and six other CMS lines, each of which had different cytoplasms but identical Shijing B (SJB, a Japonica rice maintainer line) nucleus backgrounds (Table 1). All plant materials were planted in the experimental field within the South-Central University for Nationalities campus in Wuhan, Hubei province in China during summers and in Lingshui, Hainan province in China during winters of 2009 to 2013.

Isolation of mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA

To isolate mtDNA, 20 g of young leaves were harvested using the modified method reported by Yi et al. [33], following etiolation they were homogenized in 80 mL of homogenizing buffer (pH7.2) containing 0.4 M mannitol, 40 mM MOPS, 1 mM EDTA, 0.05% cysteine, 0.1% BSA and 0.03% mercaptoethonal. After differential centrifugation and DNase I processing (Promega, USA), the pellet was resuspended with lysis buffer and fixed at room temperature for 5 min. Following phenol-chloroform extraction, DNA was precipitated with ethanol.

Total nuclear genomic DNA was isolated from green leaves using the modified method described by Zhang et al. [35]. DNA quality and quantity were estimated spectrophotometrically using a specific amount of lambda DNA (MBI, USA) on an agarose gel, and by visualizing under ultraviolet light.

Polymerase chain reaction amplification

DNA amplification was performed in a programmable thermal controller (PTC-100, MJ Research, USA) using the following program: 5 min at 94°C; 35 cycles of 1 min at 94°C, 1 min at 38°C (RAPD analysis) or 58°C (SCAR analysis), 1.5 min at 72°C; 8-min final extension at 72°C. PCRs were performed in a 25-μL reaction volume (10 mM Tris–HCl (pH 8.8), 25 mM KCl, 1.5 mM MgCl2, 0.8 mM dNTPs, 0.2 mM random primer (10 nucleotides), 100 ng genomic DNA, and 1 unit of Taq polymerase (Takara, Japan). Amplified RAPD fragments were electrophoretically separated using 1.5% agarose gels, stained with ethidium bromide, and photographed under ultraviolet light using Gel Doc2000 (Bio-Rad, USA). Molecular weights were estimated using a molecular marker (DL2000, Takara).

DNA sequencing and SCAR development

DNA polymorphism bands of RAPD markers were isolated and collected from agarose gels using a PCR purification kit according to manufacturer’s specifications (MBI). Purified PCR products were cloned using a pGEM-T easy system I kit (Promega, USA) and sequenced by Shanghai Sangon Biological Engineering Technology and Services (Shanghai, China). The polymorphism sequences were used to design new primers and develop SCAR markers linked to different CMS types. The newly developed primers were used to amplify mitochondrial DNA from all materials mentioned in this study.

Southern hybridization

L-sp1 (2176 bp) and N-atp6 probes were amplified using primers based on corresponding mitochondrial genomic sequences of rice. Mitochondrial DNA (20 μg) was separated on 0.8% agarose gels following digestion with either EcoRI or BamHI (New England Biolabs, USA) and transferred to Hybond N+-nylon membranes. Probes were radioactively labeled by random priming with α-32P-dCTP. Southern hybridization was performed in hybridization buffer at 65°C for 16 h. The membrane was washed twice at room temperature for 15 min with 2 × SSC containing 0.1% sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) and at 60°C for 30 min with 0.1 × SSC containing 0.1% SDS, and was then autoradiographed.

Transcript analysis

Total RNA was isolated from rice anthers using TRIzol reagent according to the manufacturer’s instructions (Invitrogen, USA). It was then extracted with chloroform, precipitated in isopropyl alcohol, and rinsed with ethanol before being dissolved in RNase-free water. RNase-Free DNase I (Promega, USA)was added to remove any possible genomic DNA contaminants. Synthesis of first-strand cDNA was obtained from the total RNA using a cDNA Synthesis Kit (Toyobo, Japan). The RT-PCR reaction was terminated after 22 cycles, and rice actin was used as a control. All assays were repeated at least three times.



Cytoplasmic male sterility


Open reading frames


Basic Local Alignment Search Tool


Yuetai A


Yuetai B

Rf :

Fertility restorer






Boro II


Sequence-characterized amplified region


Random amplification of polymorphic DNA


Marker-assisted selection


International Rice Research Institute


Shijing B


Base pairs








Ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid


3- (N-Morpholino) propanesulfonic acid


Bovine Serum Albumin


Polymerase chain reaction


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We thank IRRI for kindly providing wild rice. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 30771163 and 31170296), and the Academic Innovation Team for Plant Development and Genetics at the South-Central University for Nationalities (XQ Liu group).

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Correspondence to Xuequn Liu.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

YP Tan and XQ Liu designed the research experiments. YP Tan, X Xu, CT Wang, G Cheng, SQ Li, and XQ Liu performed the experimental research. YP Tan, X Xu, and XQ Liu analyzed the data. YP Tan and XQ Liu wrote and prepared the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Additional file

Additional file 1: Table S1.

All wild rice in the study.

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Tan, Y., Xu, X., Wang, C. et al. Molecular characterization and application of a novel cytoplasmic male sterility-associated mitochondrial sequence in rice. BMC Genet 16, 45 (2015).

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