Differential expression of starch and sucrose metabolic genes linked to varying biomass yield in Miscanthus hybrids

De Vega, J.J.; Peel, N.; Purdy, S.J.; Hawkins, S.; Donnison, I.; Dyer, S.; Farrar, K.

Background: Miscanthus is a commercial lignocellulosic biomass crop owing to its high biomass productivity and low chemical input requirements. Within an interspecific Miscanthus cross, progeny with high biomass yield were shown to have low concentrations of starch and sucrose but high concentrations of fructose. We performed a transcriptional RNA-seq analysis between selected Miscanthus hybrids with contrasting values for these phenotypes to clarify how these phenotypes are genetically controlled.

Results: We observed that genes directly involved in the synthesis and degradation of starch and sucrose were down-regulated in high-yielding Miscanthus hybrids. At the same time, glycolysis and export of triose phosphates were up-regulated in high-yielding Miscanthus hybrids. These differentially expressed genes and biological functions were regulated by a well-connected network of less than 25 co-regulated transcription factors.

Conclusions: Our results evidence a direct relationship between high expression of essential enzymatic genes in the starch and sucrose pathways and co-expression with their transcriptional regulators, with high starch concentrations and lower biomass production. The strong interconnectivity between gene expression and regulators, chemotype and agronomic traits opens the door to use the expression of well-characterised genes associated with carbohydrate metabolism, particularly in the starch and sucrose pathway, for the early selection of high biomass-yielding genotypes from large Miscanthus populations.

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