Current experimental evidence indicates that functionally related genes show coordinated expression in order to perform their cellular functions. In this way, the cell transcriptional machinery can respond optimally to internal or external stimuli. This provides a research opportunity to identify and study co-expressed gene modules whose transcription is controlled by shared gene regulatory networks. In our recent publication (Zhu et al., 2012; see publication list) we describe the development of an integrated set of computational methods for analysis of differential gene expression data, including gene clustering, gene network inference, gene function prediction, and DNA motif identification. These tools automatically identify differentially co-expressed gene modules, reconstruct their regulatory networks, and validate their correctness. We tested the methods using microarray data derived from soybean cells grown under various stress conditions. Our methods were able to identify 42 coherent gene modules within which average gene expression correlation coefficients are greater than 0.8 and reconstruct their putative regulatory networks. A total of 32 modules and their regulatory networks were further validated by the coherence of predicted gene functions and the consistency of putative transcription factor binding motifs. Approximately half of the 32 modules were partially supported by the literature, which demonstrates that the bioinformatic methods used can help elucidate the molecular responses of soybean cells upon various environmental stresses. We recently submitted a modification of these methods that is suitable for use starting from RNA-seq data and will post this information when available.

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