Whole genome duplication leads to autopolyploidy and brings about an increase in cell size, concentration of secondary metabolites and enhanced cytosine methylation. The increased cell size offers a positive advantage to polyploids for cell-surface-related activities, but there is a differential response to change in body size across species and taxonomic groups. Although polyploidy has been very extensively studied, having genetic, ecological and evolutionary implications, there is no report that underscores the significance of native secondary metabolites vis-à-vis body size with ploidy change. To address this problem we targeted unique diploid-autotetraploid paired sets of eight diverse clones of six species of Cymbopogon- a species complex of aromatic grasses that accumulate qualitatively different monoterpene essential oils (secondary metabolite) in their vegetative biomass. Based on the qualitative composition of essential oils and the plant body size relationship between the diploid versus autotetraploid paired sets, we show that polyploidy brings about enhanced accumulation of secondary metabolites in all cases, but exerts differential effects on body size in various species. It is observed that the accumulation of alcohol-type metabolites (e.g. geraniol) does not inhibit increase in body size with ploidy change from 2× to 4× (r = 0.854, P < 0.01), but aldehyde-type metabolites (e.g. citral) appear to drastically impede body development (r = -0.895). Such a differential response may be correlated to the metabolic steps involved in the synthesis of essential oil components. When changed to tetraploidy, the progenitor diploids requiring longer metabolic steps in production of their secondary metabolites are stressed, and those having shorter metabolite routes better utilize their resources for growth and vigour. In situ immunodetection of 5-methylcytosine sites reveals enhanced DNA methylation in autopolyploids. It is underpinned that the qualitative composition of secondary metabolites found in the vegetative biomass of the progenitor diploid has a decisive bearing on the body size of the derived autotetraploids and brings about an enhancement in genome-wide cytosine methylation.
© 2012 The Authors. The Plant Journal © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.