Integrative transcriptome and metabolome analysis reveals the mechanisms of light-induced pigmentation in purple waxy maize
Introduction: Waxy maize, mainly consumed at the immature stage, is a staple and vegetable food in Asia. The pigmentation in the kernel of purple waxy maize enhances its nutritional and market values. Light, a critical environmental factor, affects anthocyanin biosynthesis and results in pigmentation in different parts of plants, including in the kernel. SWL502 is a light-sensitive waxy maize inbred line with purple kernel color, but the regulatory mechanism of pigmentation in the kernel resulting in purple color is still unknown. Methods: In this study, cyanidin, peonidin, and pelargonidin were identified as the main anthocyanin components in SWL502, evaluated by the ultra-performance liquid chromatography (UPLC) method. Investigation of pigment accumulation in the kernel of SWL502 was performed at 12, 17, and 22 days after pollination (DAP) under both dark and light treatment conditions via transcriptome and metabolome analyses. Results: Dark treatment affected genes and metabolites associated with metabolic pathways of amino acid, carbohydrate, lipid, and galactose, biosynthesis of phenylpropanoid and terpenoid backbone, and ABC transporters. The expression of anthocyanin biosynthesis genes, such as 4CL2, CHS, F3H, and UGT, was reduced under dark treatment. Dynamic changes were identified in genes and metabolites by time-series analysis. The genes and metabolites involved in photosynthesis and purine metabolism were altered in light treatment, and the expression of genes and metabolites associated with carotenoid biosynthesis, sphingolipid metabolism, MAPK signaling pathway, and plant hormone signal transduction pathway were induced by dark treatment. Light treatment increased the expression level of major transcription factors such as LRL1, myc7, bHLH125, PIF1, BH093, PIL5, MYBS1, and BH074 in purple waxy maize kernels, while dark treatment greatly promoted the expression level of transcription factors RVE6, MYB4, MY1R1, and MYB145. Discussion: This study is the first report to investigate the effects of light on waxy maize kernel pigmentation and the underlying mechanism at both transcriptome and metabolome levels, and the results from this study are valuable for future research to better understand the effects of light on the regulation of plant growth.