Metabolomics for Biomarker Discovery: Key Signatory Metabolic Profiles for the Identification and Discrimination of Oat Cultivars

Metabolites. 2021 Mar 12;11(3):165. doi: 10.3390/metabo11030165.


The first step in crop introduction-or breeding programmes-requires cultivar identification and characterisation. Rapid identification methods would therefore greatly improve registration, breeding, seed, trade and inspection processes. Metabolomics has proven to be indispensable in interrogating cellular biochemistry and phenotyping. Furthermore, metabolic fingerprints are chemical maps that can provide detailed insights into the molecular composition of a biological system under consideration. Here, metabolomics was applied to unravel differential metabolic profiles of various oat (Avena sativa) cultivars (Magnifico, Dunnart, Pallinup, Overberg and SWK001) and to identify signatory biomarkers for cultivar identification. The respective cultivars were grown under controlled conditions up to the 3-week maturity stage, and leaves and roots were harvested for each cultivar. Metabolites were extracted using 80% methanol, and extracts were analysed on an ultra-high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) system coupled to a quadrupole time-of-flight (qTOF) high-definition mass spectrometer analytical platform. The generated data were processed and analysed using multivariate statistical methods. Principal component analysis (PCA) models were computed for both leaf and root data, with PCA score plots indicating cultivar-related clustering of the samples and pointing to underlying differential metabolic profiles of these cultivars. Further multivariate analyses were performed to profile differential signatory markers, which included carboxylic acids, amino acids, fatty acids, phenolic compounds (hydroxycinnamic and hydroxybenzoic acids, and associated derivatives) and flavonoids, among the respective cultivars. Based on the key signatory metabolic markers, the cultivars were successfully distinguished from one another in profiles derived from both leaves and roots. The study demonstrates that metabolomics can be used as a rapid phenotyping tool for cultivar differentiation.

Keywords: Avena sativa; cultivar distinction; liquid chromatography; mass spectrometry; metabolomics; multivariate data analysis; oat; secondary metabolites.