Metabolic Network Constrains Gene Regulation of C4 Photosynthesis: The Case of Maize

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Engineering C3 plants to increase their efficiency of carbon fixation as well as of nitrogen and water use simultaneously may be facilitated by understanding the mechanisms that underpin the C4 syndrome. Existing experimental studies have indicated that the emergence of the C4 syndrome requires co-ordination between several levels of cellular organization, from gene regulation to metabolism, across two co-operating cell systems—mesophyll and bundle sheath cells. Yet, determining the extent to which the structure of the C4 plant metabolic network may constrain gene expression remains unclear, although it will provide an important consideration in engineering C4 photosynthesis in C3 plants. Here, we utilize flux coupling analysis with the second-generation maize metabolic models to investigate the correspondence between metabolic network structure and transcriptomic phenotypes along the maize leaf gradient. The examined scenarios with publically available data from independent experiments indicate that the transcriptomic programs of the two cell types are co-ordinated, quantitatively and qualitatively, due to the presence of coupled metabolic reactions in specific metabolic pathways. Taken together, our study demonstrates that precise quantitative coupling will have to be achieved in order to ensure a successfully engineered transition from C3 to C4 crops.

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