Rapid Screening of Secondary Aromatic Metabolites in Populus trichocarpa Leaves

Anne Harmon-Ware, Madhavi Martin, Nancy Engle, Crissa Doeppke, Timothy Tschaplinski

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1 Scopus Citations


Background: High-throughput metabolomics analytical methodology is needed for population-scale studies of bioenergy-relevant feedstocks such as poplar (Populus sp.). Here, the authors report the relative abundance of extractable aromatic metabolites in Populus trichocarpa leaves rapidly estimated using pyrolysis-molecular beam mass spectrometry (py-MBMS). Poplar leaves were analyzed in conjunction with and validated by GC/MS analysis of extracts to determine key spectral features used to build PLS models to predict the relative composition of extractable aromatic metabolites in whole poplar leaves. Results: The Pearson correlation coefficient for the relative abundance of extractable aromatic metabolites based on ranking between GC/MS analysis and py-MBMS analysis of the Boardman leaf set was 0.86 with R2 = 0.76 using a simplified prediction approach from select ions in MBMS spectra. Metabolites most influential to py-MBMS spectral features in the Clatskanie set included the following compounds: catechol, salicortin, salicyloyl-coumaroyl-glucoside conjugates, α-salicyloylsalicin, tremulacin, as well as other salicylates, trichocarpin, salicylic acid, and various tremuloidin conjugates. Ions in py-MBMS spectra with the highest correlation to the abundance of extractable aromatic metabolites as determined by GC/MS analysis of extracts, included m/z 68, 71, 77, 91, 94, 105, 107, 108, and 122, and were used to develop the simplified prediction approach without PLS models or a priori measurements. Conclusions: The simplified py-MBMS method is capable of rapidly screening leaf tissue for relative abundance of extractable aromatic secondary metabolites to enable prioritization of samples in large populations requiring comprehensive metabolomics that will ultimately inform plant systems biology models and advance the development of optimized biomass feedstocks for renewable fuels and chemicals.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number41
Number of pages9
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels and Bioproducts
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

See NREL/JA-2800-77803 for preprint

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2800-85882


  • High-throughput analysis
  • Metabolomics
  • Populus trichocarpa
  • Pyrolysis-molecular beam mass spectrometry


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