Plant chemotypes or chemical polymorphisms are defined by discrete variation in secondary metabolites within a species. This variation can have consequences for ecological interactions or the human use of plants. Understanding the molecular basis of chemotypic variation can help to explain how variation of plant secondary metabolites is controlled. We explored the transcriptomes of the 3 cardinal terpene chemotypes of Melaleuca alternifolia in young leaves, mature leaves, and stem and compared transcript abundance to variation in the constitutive profile of terpenes. Leaves from chemotype 1 plants (dominated by terpinen-4-ol) show a similar pattern of gene expression when compared to chemotype 5 plants (dominated by 1,8-cineole). Only terpene synthases in young leaves were differentially expressed between these chemotypes, supporting the idea that terpenes are mainly synthetized in young tissue. Chemotype 2 plants (dominated by terpinolene) show a greater degree of differential gene expression compared to the other chemotypes, which might be related to the isolation of plant populations that exhibit this chemotype and the possibility that the terpinolene synthase gene in M. alternifolia was derived by introgression from a closely related species, Melaleuca trichostachya. By using multivariate analyses, we were able to associate terpenes with candidate terpene synthases.
Keywords: RNAseq; introgression; tea tree oil; terpene; terpene synthase.
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.