Inactivation of the germacrene A synthase genes by CRISPR/Cas9 eliminates the biosynthesis of sesquiterpene lactones in Cichorium intybus L.

K. Cankar*, Paul Bundock, R.E. Sevenier, S.T. Hakkinen, J.C. Hakkert, M.J. Beekwilder, I.M. van der Meer, M.T.J. De Both, H.J. Bosch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) is an industrial crop species cultivated for the production of a fructose polymer inulin, which is used as a low-calorie sweetener and prebiotic. Besides, inulin chicory taproots also accumulate sesquiterpene lactones (STLs). These are bitter tasting compounds, which need to be removed during inulin extraction, resulting in additional costs. In this work, we describe chicory lines where STL accumulation is almost completely eliminated. Genome editing using the CRISPR/Cas9 system was used to inactivate four genes that encode the enzyme that performs the first dedicated step in STL synthesis, germacrene A synthase (CiGAS). Chicory lines were obtained that carried null mutations in all four CiGAS genes. Lines lacking functional CiGAS alleles showed a normal phenotype upon greenhouse cultivation and show nearly complete elimination of the STL synthesis in the roots. It was shown that the reduction in STLs could be attributed to mutations in genetically linked copies of the CiGAS-short gene and not the CiGAS-long gene, which is relevant for breeding the trait into other cultivars. The inactivation of the STL biosynthesis pathway led to increase in phenolic compounds as well as accumulation of squalene in the chicory taproot, presumably due to increased availability of farnesyl pyrophosphate (FFP). These results demonstrate that STLs are not essential for chicory growth and that the inhibition of the STL biosynthesis pathway reduced the STL levels chicory which will facilitate inulin extraction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2442-2453
JournalPlant Biotechnology Journal
Volume19
Issue number12
Early online date16 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021

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