Salt stress is one of the major abiotic stresses in agriculture worldwide. Analysis of natural genetic variation in Arabidopsis is an effective approach to characterize candidate salt responsive genes. Differences in salt tolerance of three Arabidopsis ecotypes were compared in this study based on their responses to salt treatments at two developmental stages: seed germination and later growth. The Sha ecotype had higher germination rates, longer roots and less accumulation of superoxide radical and hydrogen peroxide than the Ler and Col ecotypes after short term salt treatment. With long term salt treatment, Sha exhibited higher survival rates and lower electrolyte leakage. Transcriptome analysis revealed that many genes involved in cell wall, photosynthesis, and redox were mainly down-regulated by salinity effects, while transposable element genes, microRNA and biotic stress related genes were significantly changed in comparisons of Sha vs. Ler and Sha vs. Col. Several pathways involved in tricarboxylic acid cycle, hormone metabolism and development, and the Gene Ontology terms involved in response to stress and defense response were enriched after salt treatment, and between Sha and other two ecotypes. Collectively, these results suggest that the Sha ecotype is preconditioned to withstand abiotic stress. Further studies about detailed gene function are needed. These comparative transcriptomic and analytical results also provide insight into the complexity of salt stress tolerance mechanisms.
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