Lessons learned from metabolic engineering in hairy roots: Transcriptome and metabolic profile changes caused by Rhizobium-mediated plant transformation in Cucurbitaceae species

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Cucurbitaceae species are used in traditional medicine around the world. Cucurbitacins are highly oxygenated triterpenoids found in Cucurbitaceae species and exhibit potent anticancer activity alone and in combination with other existing chemotherapeutic drugs. Therefore, increasing production of these specialized metabolites is of great relevance. We recently showed that hairy roots of Cucurbita pepo can be used as a platform for metabolic engineering of cucurbitacins to modify their structure and increase their production. To study the changes in cucurbitacin accumulation upon formation of hairy roots, an empty vector (EV) control and Cucurbitacin inducing bHLH transcription factor 1 (CpCUCbH1)-overexpressing hairy roots of C. pepo were compared to untransformed (WT) roots. Whilst CpCUCbH1-overexpression increased production of cucurbitacins I and B by 5-fold, and cucurbitacin E by 3-fold when compared to EV lines, this increase was not significantly different when compared to WT roots. This indicated that Rhizobium rhizogenes transformation lowered the cucurbitacins levels in hairy roots, but that increasing expression of cucurbitacin biosynthetic genes by CpCUCbH1-overexpression restored cucurbitacin production to WT levels. Subsequent metabolomic and RNA-seq analysis indicated that the metabolic profile and transcriptome of hairy roots was significantly changed when compared to WT roots. Interestingly, it was observed that 11% of the differentially expressed genes were transcription factors. It was noteworthy that the majority of transcripts showing highest Pearson correlation coefficients to the Rhizobium rhizogenes genes rolB, rolC and ORF13a, were predicted to be transcription factors. In summary, hairy roots are an excellent platform for metabolic engineering of plant specialized metabolites, but these extensive transcriptome and metabolic profile changes should be considered in subsequent studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107797
JournalPlant Physiology and Biochemistry
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
S. B. and A. A. were supported by grants from the Novo Nordisk Foundation grant No. NNF17OC0027646 and Independent Research Fund Denmark grant No. 7017-00275B .

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