A metabolomics-based approach to study abiotic stress in Lolium perenne

  • Alexandre Foito

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    In the United Kingdom and Ireland, a major percentage of fertilized agricultural area is devoted to grasslands, which helps to support the associated milk and beef production industries. In temperate grasslands, perennial ryegrass (L. perenne) is the major forage grass and this species is particularly suitable as a forage grass due to its high yield and digestibility, when compared with other species. However, perennial ryegrass is not well adapted to abiotic stress conditions which are likely to occur in its natural environment. Some of the abiotic stress factors which have significant impacts on plant growth and development include water and nutrient availability. Therefore, this project set out to unravel some of the mechanisms involved in the adaptation of perennial ryegrass to limited water, phosphorous and nitrogen. In order to understand the metabolic mechanisms acting in response to these stresses, metabolite profiling was performed using GC-MS. Furthermore, for the water- and phosphorous-limitation studies this approach was complemented with transcript analysis.

    In order to study water-limitation a hydroponics system supplemented with polyethyleneglycol (PEG) was used to induce water-limitation for a period of one-week. A clear difference in the metabolic profiles of the leaves of plants grown under water stress was observed. Differences were principally due to a reduction in fatty acid levels in the more water stress-susceptible genotype Cashel and an increase in sugars and compatible solutes in the drought-tolerant PI 462336 genotype. Sugars exhibiting a significant increase included, raffinose, trehalose, glucose, fructose and maltose. Raffinose was identified as the metabolite exhibiting the largest accumulation under water-stress in the more tolerant genotype and may represent a target for engineering superior drought tolerance or form the basis of marker-assisted breeding in perennial ryegrass. The metabolomics approach was combined with a transcriptomics approach in the water stress tolerant genotype PI 462336 which identified genes in perennial ryegrass that were regulated by this stress.

    The characterization of the response to phosphorus-limitation was performed in a hydroponics system containing two solutions with different levels of phosphorus. Samples were collected from the roots and leaves of two genotypes 24 hours after being exposed to stress. Internal phosphate concentrations were reduced and significant alterations were detected in the metabolome and transcriptome of two perennial ryegrass genotypes. Results indicated a replacement of phospholipids with sulfolipids in response to P deficiency and that this occurs at the very early stages of P deficiency in perennial ryegrass. Additionally, the results suggested the role of glycolytic bypasses and the re-allocation of carbohydrates in response to P deficiency.

    The characterization of the metabolic response of L. perenne leaves to different levels of nitrogen supply was performed for seven different genotypes with variability in the regrowth response rate to nitrogen supply in a hydroponics system. This facilitated the identification of common mechanisms of response between genotypes to nitrogen. The metabolic response observed included modifications of the lipid metabolism, as well as alterations of secondary aromatic metabolite precursors in plants exposed to nitrogendeficit. In contrast, plants grown in a nitrogen saturated media appeared to modify to some extent the metabolism of ascorbate. Additionally, it was found that amino acid levels increased with increasing concentrations of nitrogen supplied. This study suggested that the involvement of secondary metabolism, together with lipid and ascorbate metabolism, is of crucial importance in the early-adaptation of perennial ryegrass plants to different levels of nitrogen supply.
    Date of Award2010
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDerek Stewart (Supervisor), Susanne Barth (Supervisor) & Claire Halpin (Supervisor)


    • Metabolomics
    • Lolium
    • Abiotic stress
    • Perennial ryegrass

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