Non-Targeted Metabolomics in Diverse Sorghum Breeding Lines Indicates Primary and Secondary Metabolite Profiles Are Associated with Plant Biomass Accumulation and Photosynthesis

Edward Wolfrum, Marie Turner, Adam Heuberger, Jay Kirkwood, Carl Collins, Corey Broeckling, Jessica Prenni, Courtney Jahn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus Citations


Metabolomics is an emerging method to improve our understanding of how genetic diversity affects phenotypic variation in plants. Recent studies have demonstrated that genotype has a major influence on biochemical variation in several types of plant tissues, however, the association between metabolic variation and variation in morphological and physiological traits is largely unknown. Sorghum bicolor (L.) is an important food and fuel crop with extensive genetic and phenotypic variation. Sorghum lines have been bred for differing phenotypes beneficial for production of grain (food), stem sugar (food, fuel), and cellulosic biomass (forage, fuel), and these varying phenotypes are the end products of innate metabolic programming which determines how carbon is allocated during plant growth and development. Further, sorghum has been adapted among highly diverse environments. Because of this geographic and phenotypic variation, the sorghum metabolome is expected to be highly divergent; however, metabolite variation in sorghum has not been characterized. Here, we utilize a phenotypically diverse panel of sorghum breeding lines to identify associations between leaf metabolites and morpho-physiological traits. The panel (11 lines) exhibited significant variation for 21 morpho-physiological traits, as well as broader trends in variation by sorghum type (grain vs. biomass types). Variation was also observed for cell wall constituents (glucan, xylan, lignin, ash). Non-targeted metabolomics analysis of leaf tissue showed that 956 of 1181 metabolites varied among the lines (81%, ANOVA, FDR adjusted p < 0.05). Both univariate and multivariate analyses determined relationships between metabolites and morpho-physiological traits, and 384 metabolites correlated with at least one trait (32%, p<0.05), including many secondary metabolites such as glycosylated flavonoids and chlorogenic acids. The use of metabolomics to explain relationships between two or more morpho-physiological traits was explored and showed chlorogenic and shikimic acid to be associated with photosynthesis, early plant growth and final biomass measures in sorghum. Taken together, this study demonstrates the integration of metabolomics with morpho-physiological datasets to elucidate links between plant metabolism, growth, and architecture.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number953
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Issue numberJULY2016
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 An, Song, Liu, Shu and Guo.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-66879


  • Biomass
  • Chlorogenic acid
  • GC-MS
  • LC-MS
  • Metabolomics
  • Photosynthesis
  • Shikimic acid
  • Sorghum bicolor


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