It is well known that aromatic essential oils extracted from the heartwood of Santalum album L. have wide economic value. However, little is known about the role of terpenoids in response to various adverse environmental stresses as other plants do in the form of signals during plant-environment interactions.
In this study, trace amounts of volatiles consisting of α-santalene, epi-β-santalene, β-santalene, α-santalol, β-santalol, (E)-α-bergamotene, (E)-β-farnesene and β-bisabolene were found in the leaves of mature S. album trees. We identified more than 40 candidate terpene synthase (TPS) unigenes by mining publicly-available RNA-seq data and characterized the enzymes encoded by three cDNAs: one mono-TPS catalyzes the formation of mostly α-terpineol, and two multifunctional sesqui-TPSs, one of which produces (E)-α-bergamotene and sesquisabinene as major products and another which catalyzes the formation of (E)-β-farnesene, (E)-nerolidol and (E,E)-farnesol as main products. Metabolite signatures and gene expression studies confirmed that santalol content is closely related with santalene synthase (SaSSY) transcripts in heartwood, which is key enzyme responsible for santalol biosynthesis. However, the expression of three new SaTPS genes differed significantly from SaSSY in the essential oil-producing heartwood. Increased activities of antioxidant enzymes, superoxide dismutase, catalase, peroxidase and ascorbate peroxidase, were detected in different tissues of S. album plants after applying 1 mM methyl jasmonate (MeJA) and 1 mM salicylic acid (SA), or exposure to 4°C, 38°C and high light intensity. MeJA and SA dramatically induced the expression of SaTPS1 and SaTPS2 in leaves. SaTPS1 to 3 transcripts were differentially activated among different tissues under adverse temperature and light stresses. In contrast, almost all SaSSY transcripts decreased in response to these environmental stresses, unlike SaTPS1 to 3.
Multifunctional enzymes were biochemically characterized, including one chloroplastic mono-TPS and two cytosolic sesqui-TPSs in sandalwood. Our results suggest the ecological importance of these three new SaTPS genes in defensive response to biotic attack and abiotic stresses in S. album.
Reference: Zhang, X., M. Niu, J. A. T. da Silva, Y. Zhang, Y. Yuan, Y. Jia, Y. Xiao, Y. Li, L. Fang and S. Zeng (2019). “Identification and functional characterization of three new terpene synthase genes involved in chemical defense and abiotic stresses in Santalum album.” BMC plant biology 19(1): 115.