The evolution of C4 photosynthesis led to an increase in carbon assimilation rates and plant growth compared to C3 photosynthetic plants. This enhanced plant growth, in turn, affects the requirement for soil-derived mineral nutrients. However, mineral plant nutrition has scarcely been considered in connection with C4 photosynthesis. Sulfur is crucial for plant growth and development, and preliminary studies in the genus Flaveria suggested metabolic differences in sulfate assimilation along the C4 evolutionary trajectory. Here, we show that in controlled conditions, foliar accumulation of the reduced sulfur compounds Cys and glutathione (GSH) increased with progressing establishment of the C4 photosynthetic cycle in different Flaveria species. An enhanced demand for reduced sulfur in C4 Flaveria species is reflected in high rates of [35S]sulfate incorporation into GSH upon sulfate deprivation and increased GSH turnover as a reaction to the inhibition of GSH synthesis. Expression analyses indicate that the γ-glutamyl cycle is crucial for the recycling of GSH in C4 species. Sulfate reduction and GSH synthesis seems to be preferentially localized in the roots of C4 species, which might be linked to its colocalization with the phosphorylated pathway of Ser biosynthesis. Interspecies grafting experiments of F. robusta (C3) and F. bidentis (C4) revealed that the root system primarily controls sulfate acquisition, GSH synthesis, and sulfate and metabolite allocation in C3 and C4 plants. This study thus shows that evolution of C4 photosynthesis resulted in a wide range of adaptations of sulfur metabolism and points out the need for broader studies on importance of mineral nutrition for C4 plants.
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