Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are well known for their nutritional quality, and recent work has shown that Vaccinium spp. also produce iridoids, which are specialized metabolites with potent health‐promoting benefits. The iridoid glycoside monotropein, which has anti‐inflammatory and antinociceptive activities, has been detected in several wild blueberry species but in only a few cultivated highbush blueberry cultivars. How monotropein is produced in blueberry and the genes involved in its biosynthesis remain to be elucidated. Using a monotropein‐positive (M+) and monotropein‐negative (M−) cultivar of blueberry, we employed transcriptomics and comparative genomics to identify candidate genes in the blueberry iridoid biosynthetic pathway. Orthology analysis was completed using de novo transcript assemblies for both the M+ and M− blueberry cultivars along with the known iridoid‐producing plant species Catharanthus roseus to identify putative genes involved in key steps in the early iridoid biosynthetic pathway. From the identified orthologs, we functionally characterized iridoid synthase (ISY), a key enzyme involved in formation of the iridoid scaffold, from both the M+ and M− cultivars. Detection of nepetalactol suggests that ISY from both the M+ and M− cultivars produce functional enzymes that catalyze the formation of iridoids. Transcript accumulation of the putative ISY gene did not correlate with monotropein production, suggesting other genes in the monotropein biosynthetic pathway may be more directly responsible for differential accumulation of the metabolite in blueberry. Mutual rank analysis revealed that ISY is co‐expressed with UDP‐glucuronosyltransferase, which encodes an enzyme downstream of the ISY step. Results from this study contribute new knowledge in our understanding of iridoid biosynthesis in blueberry and could lead to development of new cultivars with increased human health benefits.
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