Transcript profiles of wild and domesticated sorghum under water-stressed conditions and the differential impact on dhurrin metabolism

Planta. 2022 Jan 27;255(2):51. doi: 10.1007/s00425-022-03831-4.


Australian native species of sorghum contain negligible amounts of dhurrin in their leaves and the cyanogenesis process is regulated differently under water-stress in comparison to domesticated sorghum species. Cyanogenesis in forage sorghum is a major concern in agriculture as the leaves of domesticated sorghum are potentially toxic to livestock, especially at times of drought which induces increased production of the cyanogenic glucoside dhurrin. The wild sorghum species endemic to Australia have a negligible content of dhurrin in the above ground tissues and thus represent a potential resource for key agricultural traits like low toxicity. In this study we investigated the differential expression of cyanogenesis related genes in the leaf tissue of the domesticated species Sorghum bicolor and the Australian native wild species Sorghum macrospermum grown in glasshouse-controlled water-stress conditions using RNA-Seq analysis to analyse gene expression. The study identified genes, including those in the cyanogenesis pathway, that were differentially regulated in response to water-stress in domesticated and wild sorghum. In the domesticated sorghum, dhurrin content was significantly higher compared to that in the wild sorghum and increased with stress and decreased with age whereas in wild sorghum the dhurrin content remained negligible. The key genes in dhurrin biosynthesis, CYP79A1, CYP71E1 and UGT85B1, were shown to be highly expressed in S. bicolor. DHR and HNL encoding the dhurrinase and α-hydroxynitrilase catalysing bio-activation of dhurrin were also highly expressed in S. bicolor. Analysis of the differences in expression of cyanogenesis related genes between domesticated and wild sorghum species may allow the use of these genetic resources to produce more acyanogenic varieties in the future.

Keywords: Cyanogenesis; Dhurrin metabolism; Gene expression; Sorghum; Water-stress; Wild sorghum.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Edible Grain
  • Nitriles
  • Sorghum* / genetics
  • Water


  • Nitriles
  • Water
  • dhurrin