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Organic acid metabolites involved in local adaptation to altitudinal gradient in Agriophyllum squarrosum, a desert medicinal plant

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Agriophyllum squarrosum (L.) Moq., a pioneer plant endemic to the temperate deserts of Asia, could be domesticated into an ideal crop with outstanding ecological and medicinal characteristics. A previous study showed differential organic acid accumulation between two in situ altitudinal ecotypes. To verify whether this accumulation was determined by environmental or genetic factors, we conducted organic acid targeted metabolic profiling among 14 populations of A. squarrosum collected from regions with different altitudes based on a common garden experiment. Results showed that the most abundant organic acid in A. squarrosum was citric acid (96.03%, 2322.90 μg g–1). Association analysis with in situ environmental variables showed that salicylic acid content was positively correlated with altitudinal gradient. Considering the enrichment of salicylic acid and protocatechualdehyde in high-altitude populations based on the common garden experiment, and the high expression of their biosynthesis relative genes (i.e., PAL and C4H) in the in situ high-altitude ecotype, we propose that organic acid accumulation could be involved in local adaptation to high altitudes. This study not only addresses the molecular basis of local adaptation involving the accumulation of organic acids in the desert plant A. squarrosum but also provides a method to screen wild germplasms to mitigate the impact of global climate change.

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This work was supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (Grant Nos. 2016YFC0500903 and 2017YF100200); the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 31901079 and 31770416); the Key Research and Development Program of Gansu Province (Grant No. 18YF1NA123); the Xinjiang Production and Construction Crops Key Laboratory of Protection and Utilization of Biological Resources in Tarim Basin (Grant No. BRZD1809); the Foundation for Excellent Youth Scholars of NIEER, CAS (Grant No. Y92972); and the Special Funds for Scientific and Technological Innovation and Development in Gansu Province (Research and Development Center of Desert Nutrition and Medicinal Plant Germplasm Innovation). We thank Xicun Dong for writing assistance. We appreciate the linguistic assistance provided by TopEdit ( during preparation of this manuscript.

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SZ writing—original draft, software, visualization. JY investigation. CQ writing—review and editing. X-FM conceptualization, methodology, supervision, writing—review and editing, funding acquisition.

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Correspondence to Xiao-Fei Ma.

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Zhou, S., Yang, J., Qian, C. et al. Organic acid metabolites involved in local adaptation to altitudinal gradient in Agriophyllum squarrosum, a desert medicinal plant. J Plant Res 134, 999–1011 (2021).

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