Phytochromes control metabolic flux, and their action at the seedling stage determines adult plant biomass

J Exp Bot. 2021 Apr 2;72(8):3263-3278. doi: 10.1093/jxb/erab038.


Phytochrome photoreceptors are known to regulate plastic growth responses to vegetation shade. However, recent reports also suggest an important role for phytochromes in carbon resource management, metabolism, and growth. Here, we use 13CO2 labelling patterns in multiallele phy mutants to investigate the role of phytochrome in the control of metabolic fluxes. We also combine quantitative data of 13C incorporation into protein and cell wall polymers, gas exchange measurements, and system modelling to investigate why biomass is decreased in adult multiallele phy mutants. Phytochrome influences the synthesis of stress metabolites such as raffinose and proline, and the accumulation of sugars, possibly through regulating vacuolar sugar transport. Remarkably, despite their modified metabolism and vastly altered architecture, growth rates in adult phy mutants resemble those of wild-type plants. Our results point to delayed seedling growth and smaller cotyledon size as the cause of the adult-stage phy mutant biomass defect. Our data signify a role for phytochrome in metabolic stress physiology and carbon partitioning, and illustrate that phytochrome action at the seedling stage sets the trajectory for adult biomass production.

Keywords: 13C labelling; growth modelling; metabolic flux; phytochrome; plant growth; stress metabolites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomass
  • Cotyledon
  • Light
  • Phytochrome B
  • Phytochrome*
  • Seedlings / growth & development*
  • Stress, Physiological


  • Phytochrome
  • Phytochrome B