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Transcriptome mining, functional characterization, and phylogeny of a large terpene synthase gene family in spruce (Picea spp.)

Christopher I Keeling1, Sabrina Weisshaar2, Steven G Ralph3, Sharon Jancsik1, Britta Hamberger4, Harpreet K Dullat1 and Jörg Bohlmann1*

Author Affiliations

1 Michael Smith Laboratories, University of British Columbia, 301-2185 East Mall, Vancouver BC, V6T 1Z4, Canada

2 Roche Diagnostics Ltd., Forrenstrasse, CH-6343 Rotkreuz, Switzerland

3 Department of Biology, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND, 58202-9019, USA

4 Department of Plant Biology and Biotechnology, University of Copenhagen, Thorvaldsensvej 40, opg. 10, 1.-1871 Frederiksberg, Denmark

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BMC Plant Biology 2011, 11:43  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-11-43

Published: 7 March 2011



In conifers, terpene synthases (TPSs) of the gymnosperm-specific TPS-d subfamily form a diverse array of mono-, sesqui-, and diterpenoid compounds, which are components of the oleoresin secretions and volatile emissions. These compounds contribute to defence against herbivores and pathogens and perhaps also protect against abiotic stress.


The availability of extensive transcriptome resources in the form of expressed sequence tags (ESTs) and full-length cDNAs in several spruce (Picea) species allowed us to estimate that a conifer genome contains at least 69 unique and transcriptionally active TPS genes. This number is comparable to the number of TPSs found in any of the sequenced and well-annotated angiosperm genomes. We functionally characterized a total of 21 spruce TPSs: 12 from Sitka spruce (P. sitchensis), 5 from white spruce (P. glauca), and 4 from hybrid white spruce (P. glauca × P. engelmannii), which included 15 monoterpene synthases, 4 sesquiterpene synthases, and 2 diterpene synthases.


The functional diversity of these characterized TPSs parallels the diversity of terpenoids found in the oleoresin and volatile emissions of Sitka spruce and provides a context for understanding this chemical diversity at the molecular and mechanistic levels. The comparative characterization of Sitka spruce and Norway spruce diterpene synthases revealed the natural occurrence of TPS sequence variants between closely related spruce species, confirming a previous prediction from site-directed mutagenesis and modelling.