Metabolome Analysis of Arabidopsis thaliana Roots Identifies a Key Metabolic Pathway for Iron Acquisition


Fe deficiency compromises both human health and plant productivity. Thus, it is important to understand plant Fe acquisition strategies for the development of crop plants which are more Fe-efficient under Fe-limited conditions, such as alkaline soils, and have higher Fe density in their edible tissues. Root secretion of phenolic compounds has long been hypothesized to be a component of the reduction strategy of Fe acquisition in non-graminaceous plants. We therefore subjected roots of Arabidopsis thaliana plants grown under Fe-replete and Fe-deplete conditions to comprehensive metabolome analysis by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and ultra-pressure liquid chromatography electrospray ionization quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Scopoletin and other coumarins were found among the metabolites showing the strongest response to two different Fe-limited conditions, the cultivation in Fe-free medium and in medium with an alkaline pH.

    Fig. 1: Structure of Scopoletin

A coumarin biosynthesis mutant defective in ortho-hydroxylation of cinnamic acids was unable to grow on alkaline soil in the absence of Fe fertilization. Co-cultivation with wild-type plants partially rescued the Fe deficiency phenotype indicating a contribution of extracellular coumarins to Fe solubilization. Indeed, coumarins were detected in root exudates of wild-type plants. Direct infusion mass spectrometry as well as UV/vis spectroscopy indicated that coumarins are acting both as reductants of Fe(III) and as ligands of Fe(II).

Fig. 2: Scopoletin "rescueing" mutants on alkaline iron defficient media. First lane: Mutants not capable of producing
           Scopoletin on normal media. Second lane: same mutant on alkaline media with scopoletin. Third lane: same
           mutant on alkaline media without scopoletin.

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