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Open Access Research article

A systems approach to identifying correlated gene targets for the loss of colour pigmentation in plants

Sangaalofa T Clark* and Wynand S Verwoerd

Author Affiliations

Centre for Advanced Computational Solutions (CfACS), Agriculture and Life Sciences Division Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand

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BMC Bioinformatics 2011, 12:343  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-343

Published: 17 August 2011

Abstract

Background

The numerous diverse metabolic pathways by which plant compounds can be produced make it difficult to predict how colour pigmentation is lost for different tissues and plants. This study employs mathematical and in silico methods to identify correlated gene targets for the loss of colour pigmentation in plants from a whole cell perspective based on the full metabolic network of Arabidopsis. This involves extracting a self-contained flavonoid subnetwork from the AraCyc database and calculating feasible metabolic routes or elementary modes (EMs) for it. Those EMs leading to anthocyanin compounds are taken to constitute the anthocyanin biosynthetic pathway (ABP) and their interplay with the rest of the EMs is used to study the minimal cut sets (MCSs), which are different combinations of reactions to block for eliminating colour pigmentation. By relating the reactions to their corresponding genes, the MCSs are used to explore the phenotypic roles of the ABP genes, their relevance to the ABP and the impact their eliminations would have on other processes in the cell.

Results

Simulation and prediction results of the effect of different MCSs for eliminating colour pigmentation correspond with existing experimental observations. Two examples are: i) two MCSs which require the simultaneous suppression of genes DFR and ANS to eliminate colour pigmentation, correspond to observational results of the same genes being co-regulated for eliminating floral pigmentation in Aquilegia and; ii) the impact of another MCS requiring CHS suppression, corresponds to findings where the suppression of the early gene CHS eliminated nearly all flavonoids but did not affect the production of volatile benzenoids responsible for floral scent.

Conclusions

From the various MCSs identified for eliminating colour pigmentation, several correlate to existing experimental observations, indicating that different MCSs are suitable for different plants, different cells, and different conditions and could also be related to regulatory genes. Being able to correlate the predictions with experimental results gives credence to the use of these mathematical and in silico analyses methods in the design of experiments. The methods could be used to prioritize target enzymes for different objectives to achieve desired outcomes, especially for less understood pathways.