Red Anthocyanins and Yellow Carotenoids Form the Color of Orange-Flower Gentian (Gentiana lutea L. var. aurantiaca).


Flower color is an important characteristic that determines the commercial value of ornamental plants. Gentian flowers occur in a limited range of colors because this species is not widely cultivated as a cut flower. Gentiana lutea L. var. aurantiaca (abbr, aurantiaca) is characterized by its orange flowers, but the specific pigments responsible for this coloration are unknown. We therefore investigated the carotenoid and flavonoid composition of petals during flower development in the orange-flowered gentian variety of aurantiaca and the yellow-flowered variety of G. lutea L. var. lutea (abbr, lutea). We observed minor varietal differences in the concentration of carotenoids at the early and final stages, but only aurantiaca petals accumulated pelargonidin glycosides, whereas these compounds were not found in lutea petals. We cloned and sequenced the anthocyanin biosynthetic gene fragments from petals, and analyzed the expression of these genes in the petals of both varieties to determine the molecular mechanisms responsible for the differences in petal color. Comparisons of deduced amino acid sequences encoded by the isolated anthocyanin cDNA fragments indicated that chalcone synthase (CHS), chalcone isomerase (CHI), anthocyanidin synthase 1 (ANS1) and ANS2 are identical in both aurantiaca and lutea varieties whereas minor amino acid differences of the deduced flavonone 3-hydroxylase (F3H) and dihydroflavonol 4-reductase (DFR) between both varieties were observed. The aurantiaca petals expressed substantially higher levels of transcripts representing CHS, F3H, DFR, ANS and UDP-glucose:flavonoid-3-O-glucosyltransferase genes, compared to lutea petals. Pelargonidin glycoside synthesis in aurantiaca petals therefore appears to reflect the higher steady-state levels of pelargonidin synthesis transcripts. Moreover, possible changes in the substrate specificity of DFR enzymes may represent additional mechanisms for producing red pelargonidin glycosides in petals of aurantiaca. Our report describing the exclusive accumulation of pelargonidin glycosides in aurantiaca petals may facilitate the modification of gentian flower color by the production of red anthocyanins.

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