Germination is a biological process important to plant development and agricultural production. Barley and rice diverged 50 million years ago, but share a similar germination process. To gain insight into the conservation of their underlying gene regulatory programs, we compared transcriptomes of barley and rice at start, middle and end points of germination, and revealed that germination regulated barley and rice genes (BRs) diverged significantly in expression patterns and/or protein sequences. However, BRs with higher protein sequence similarity tended to have more conserved expression patterns. We identified and characterized 316 sets of conserved barley and rice genes (cBRs) with high similarity in both protein sequences and expression patterns, and provided a comprehensive depiction of the transcriptional regulatory program conserved in barley and rice germination at gene, pathway and systems levels. The cBRs encoded proteins involved in a variety of biological pathways and had a wide range of expression patterns. The cBRs encoding key regulatory components in signaling pathways often had diverse expression patterns. Early germination up-regulation of cell wall metabolic pathway and peroxidases, and late germination up-regulation of chromatin structure and remodeling pathways were conserved in both barley and rice. Protein sequence and expression pattern of a gene change quickly if it is not subjected to a functional constraint. Preserving germination-regulated expression patterns and protein sequences of those cBRs for 50 million years strongly suggests that the cBRs are functionally significant and equivalent in germination, and contribute to the ancient characteristics of germination preserved in barley and rice. The functional significance and equivalence of the cBR genes predicted here can serve as a foundation to further characterize their biological functions and facilitate bridging rice and barley germination research with greater confidence.
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