Article open access publication

Dhurrin metabolism in the developing grain of Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench investigated by metabolite profiling and novel clustering analyses of time-resolved transcriptomic data

BMC Genomics, Springer Nature, ISSN 1471-2164

Volume 17, 1, 2016

DOI:10.1186/s12864-016-3360-4, Dimensions: pub.1045205345, PMC: PMC5154151, PMID: 27964718,



  1. (1) Novozymes (Denmark), grid.10582.3e
  2. (2) Seedtek, 12 Kestrel Court, 4350, Toowoomba, Australia
  3. (3) University of Copenhagen, grid.5254.6, KU
  4. (4) Technical University of Denmark, grid.5170.3, DTU
  5. (5) Carlsberg Research Laboratory, J.C. Jacobsens Gade 4, 1799, Copenhagen V, Denmark






BACKGROUND: The important cereal crop Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench biosynthesize and accumulate the defensive compound dhurrin during development. Previous work has suggested multiple roles for the compound including a function as nitrogen storage/buffer. Crucial for this function is the endogenous turnover of dhurrin for which putative pathways have been suggested but not confirmed. RESULTS: In this study, the biosynthesis and endogenous turnover of dhurrin in the developing sorghum grain was studied by metabolite profiling and time-resolved transcriptome analyses. Dhurrin was found to accumulate in the early phase of grain development reaching maximum amounts 25 days after pollination. During the subsequent maturation period, the dhurrin content was turned over, resulting in only negligible residual dhurrin amounts in the mature grain. Dhurrin accumulation correlated with the transcript abundance of the three genes involved in biosynthesis. Despite the accumulation of dhurrin, the grains were acyanogenic as demonstrated by the lack of hydrogen cyanide release from macerated grain tissue and by the absence of transcripts encoding dhurrinases. With the missing activity of dhurrinases, the decrease in dhurrin content in the course of grain maturation represents the operation of hitherto uncharacterized endogenous dhurrin turnover pathways. Evidence for the operation of two such pathways was obtained by metabolite profiling and time-resolved transcriptome analysis. By combining cluster- and phylogenetic analyses with the metabolite profiling, potential gene candidates of glutathione S-transferases, nitrilases and glycosyl transferases involved in these pathways were identified. The absence of dhurrin in the mature grain was replaced by a high content of proanthocyanidins. Cluster- and phylogenetic analyses coupled with metabolite profiling, identified gene candidates involved in proanthocyanidin biosynthesis in sorghum. CONCLUSIONS: The results presented in this article reveal the existence of two endogenous dhurrin turnover pathways in sorghum, identify genes putatively involved in these transformations and show that dhurrin in addition to its insect deterrent properties may serve as a storage form of reduced nitrogen. In the course of sorghum grain maturation, proanthocyanidins replace dhurrin as a defense compound. The lack of cyanogenesis in the developing sorghum grain renders this a unique experimental system to study CNglc synthesis as well as endogenous turnover.


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