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Open Access Research article

Starch biosynthetic genes and enzymes are expressed and active in the absence of starch accumulation in sugar beet tap-root

Helle Turesson1*, Mariette Andersson1, Salla Marttila2, Ingela Thulin3 and Per Hofvander1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Plant Breeding, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, P.O. Box 101, SE-23053 Alnarp, Sweden

2 Department of Plant Protection Biology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, P.O. Box 102, SE-23053 Alnarp, Sweden

3 SOLAM AB, Degebergavägen 60-20, SE-291 91 Kristianstad, Sweden

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BMC Plant Biology 2014, 14:104  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-14-104

Published: 23 April 2014

Abstract

Background

Starch is the predominant storage compound in underground plant tissues like roots and tubers. An exception is sugar beet tap-root (Beta vulgaris ssp altissima) which exclusively stores sucrose. The underlying mechanism behind this divergent storage accumulation in sugar beet is currently not fully known. From the general presence of starch in roots and tubers it could be speculated that the lack in sugar beet tap-roots would originate from deficiency in pathways leading to starch. Therefore with emphasis on starch accumulation, we studied tap-roots of sugar beet using parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) as a comparator.

Results

Metabolic and structural analyses of sugar beet tap-root confirmed sucrose as the exclusive storage component. No starch granules could be detected in tap-roots of sugar beet or the wild ancestor sea beet (Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima). Analyses of parsnip showed that the main storage component was starch but tap-root tissue was also found to contain significant levels of sugars. Surprisingly, activities of four main starch biosynthetic enzymes, phosphoglucomutase, ADP-glucose pyrophosphorylase, starch synthase and starch branching enzyme, were similar in sugar beet and parsnip tap-roots. Transcriptional analysis confirmed expression of corresponding genes. Additionally, expression of genes involved in starch accumulation such as for plastidial hexose transportation and starch tuning functions could be determined in tap-roots of both plant species.

Conclusion

Considering underground storage organs, sugar beet tap-root upholds a unique property in exclusively storing sucrose. Lack of starch also in the ancestor sea beet indicates an evolved trait of biological importance.

Our findings in this study show that gene expression and enzymatic activity of main starch biosynthetic functions are present in sugar beet tap-root during storage accumulation. In view of this, the complete lack of starch in sugar beet tap-roots is enigmatic.

Keywords:
Beta vulgaris; Pastinaca sativa; Storage accumulation; Carbon allocation; Starch; Sucrose