The cost of glucosinolate biosynthesis

Highighted article: Michaël Bekaert, Patrick P. Edger, Corey M. Hudson, J.Chris Pires, Gavin C. Conant (2012) Metabolic and evolutionary costs of herbivory defense: systems biology of glucosinolate synthesis. New Phytologist 196:596–605.

Research published in a current New Phytologist paper uses a systems biology approach to demonstrate the metabolic and evolutionary costs of producing glucosinolates for defence.  Bekart et al. used AraGEM (Oliveira Dal’Molin et al., 2010) as a starting point. They collected data on Arabidopsis glucosinolate genes by scouring published papers and downloading their expression patterns from AtGenExpress. This information was integrated into the basic dataset from AraGEM. The complete list of genes involved in glucosinolate reactions, including references, is in Supplementary Table S1 of the paper.

The team performed flux balance analysis on the integrated database to estimate metabolic and energy flux through reactions in the system both with glucosinolate biosynthesis activity and with none. They found that glucosinolate biosynthesis affected flux incidentally through 241 reactions in addition to the 196 reactions which are only active when glucosinolates are being produced.

The main finding of the research is the heavy cost of glucosinolate biosynthesis. Sulphur import dramatically increased when glucosinolates were being synthesised, and demand for water, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and photons increased too. Despite the increase in substrate import, biomass synthesis fell by around 15% during glucosinolate production. This cost is reflected in other studies demonstrating that the evolutionary competitive edge glucosinolates give to plants is a disadvantage when there are no predators around (Mauricio, 1997), and reduces the number of seeds and flowers produced per plant compared to non-producers (Stowe and Marquis, 2011). (more…)

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