Effects of altering three steps of monolignol biosynthesis on sorghum responses to stalk pathogens and water deficit.

Funnell-Harris DL, Sattler SE, O'Neill PM, Gries T, Ge Z, Nersesian N

Published: 11 July 2023 in Plant disease
Keywords: drought, hydroxycinnamates, lignin, phenylpropanoid biosynthesis, transgenic overexpression
Pubmed ID: 37430480
DOI: 10.1094/PDIS-08-22-1959-RE

The drought-resilient crop sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench] is grown worldwide for multiple uses, including forage or potential lignocellulosic bioenergy feedstock. A major impediment to biomass yield and quality are the pathogens, Fusarium thapsinum and Macrophomina phaseolina, which cause Fusarium stalk rot and charcoal rot, respectively. These fungi are more virulent with abiotic stresses such as drought. Monolignol biosynthesis plays a critical role in plant defense. The genes Brown midrib (Bmr)6, Bmr12, and Bmr2 encode the monolignol biosynthesis enzymes cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase, caffeic acid O-methyltransferase, and 4-coumarate:CoA ligase, respectively. Plant stalks from lines overexpressing these genes and containing bmr mutations were screened for pathogen responses with controlled adequate or deficit watering. Additionally, near-isogenic bmr12 and wild-type lines in five backgrounds were screened for response to F. thapsinum with adequate and deficit watering. All mutant and overexpression lines were no more susceptible than corresponding wild-type under both watering conditions. The bmr2 and bmr12 lines, near-isogenic to wild-type, had significantly shorter mean lesion lengths (were more resistant) than RTx430 wild-type when inoculated with F. thapsinum with water deficit. Additionally, bmr2 plants grown under water deficit had significantly smaller mean lesions when inoculated with M. phaseolina than under adequate water conditions. When well-watered, bmr12 in cultivar Wheatland and one of two Bmr2 overexpression lines in RTx430 had shorter mean lesion lengths than corresponding wild-type lines. This research demonstrates that modifying monolignol biosynthesis for increased usability may not impair plant defenses but can even enhance resistance to stalk pathogens under drought conditions.