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The role of plant primary and secondary metabolism in pollination

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MEPOL (The role of plant primary and secondary metabolism in pollination)

Reporting period: 2015-06-09 to 2017-06-08

Without pollination, many fruits and vegetables would disappear from our tables and the variety of food in our diet would be dramatically reduced. Animal pollinators (insects, birds, bats and small mammals) by transferring pollen from flower to flower support plant fertilization, so allowing fruits and seed settings to occur.

It has been estimated that animal-mediated pollination contributes to more than $200 billion of revenue, which is about 10% of the annual global agricultural production (FAOSTAT). In particular, the production of vegetables (onions, melons, zucchini, etc), fruits (strawberries, apples, almonds, etc) and stimulants (cocoa and coffee) relies heavily on pollination, as well as the production of seeds and grains. For example, 20% increase in seed yield and market value of oilseed rape was observed when insects pollinated the crop.

To attract animal pollinators to the flowers, plants use signals that stimulate their visual and olfactory senses, as for example colors and scent and reward their visits with food in the form of nectar and pollen.

With the final aim of improving the efficiency of flower pollination in fruits and crops, and to enhance the quality of agricultural produce, this research project has the main goal to investigate production and regulation of metabolites in flowers.
To achieve the goal proposed in the MEPOL project, two experiments have been set up that use flowers from Arabidopsis thaliana as a model organism for the study.

In a first experiment, primary and secondary metabolites and volatiles have been measured in flowers at time points during development and the metabolites amounts are being correlated to transcripts abundance. Stages of development ranging from flower buds through anthesis and early senescence were included in the experiment. The model plant Arabidopsis thaliana has been used in the experiment because of the easy access to genetic resources.
This first experiment has been successfully set up, flower material collected and extraction of metabolites and RNA transcripts performed. Seventy-four primary metabolites including sugars, amino acids, and organic acids were measured in all the stages, as well as the emission of volatiles compounds. We have determined that stages of flower development can be sorted based upon the content of primary metabolites and/or RNA transcripts, which highlights the robustness of our experimental plan. The analysis of secondary metabolites is currently under way, as it is the correlation analysis between metabolites and transcripts.

A second experiment has been set up to use the genetic variation offered by natural Arabidopsis accessions to investigate the diversity that surrounds floral metabolites. This experiment in on the way.
The biosynthetic pathways that control the production of floral metabolites of relevance for attraction and rewards of pollinators, the responses that these metabolites induce in the animals, and the novel discoveries in this field of research have been collected and described in a review recently published in the journal Trends in Plant Science (Borghi et al., 2017. The sexual advantage of looking, smelling and tasting good: the metabolic network that produces signals for pollinators. Trends in Plant Science. In press)
Plantae ( the global community and knowledge hub for plant scientists powered by the American Association of Plant Biology in collaboration with the Global Plant Council, has signaled this review for highlighting the integration of biochemistry and pollinator ecology as a powerful tool for teaching purposes in the categories of Biochemistry, Biotic Interactions, and Metabolism.
Poster presented at the GRC conference on Plant Volatiles in Ventura, CA, USA