Walnuts (including those covered with a pellicle) are loved for their rich nutritional value. And the popular varieties of walnut cultivation are Juglans sigillata L. The pellicle (seed coat) of these walnut cultivars has different colors and has an indispensable influence on the walnut quality formation. However, there are few reports on the pellicle color and quality formation in different developmental stages of walnut (Juglans sigillata L.). Therefore, in this study, three walnut cultivars (F, Q, and T) with different pellicle colors were selected for transcriptome sequencing and physiological index analysis of the color and quality formation mechanisms at different development stages. The results showed that with the development of walnut fruit, the starch sucrose metabolism pathway in the pellicle was activated and promoted starch hydrolysis. Meanwhile, the expression levels of genes related to the alpha-linolenic acid metabolism pathway were significantly increased during walnut maturation, especially in F2. Some physiological indicators related to lipid oxidation were also detected and analyzed in this study, such as MDA, CAT, POD and DPPH. These results were similar to the expression patterns of corresponding regulatory genes in the RNA-Seq profile. In addition, lignin synthesis genes were up-regulated in the phenylpropanoid metabolic pathway, while key genes enriched in the flavonoid and anthocyanin synthesis pathways were down-regulated. The results were consistent with the results of total anthocyanins and flavonoid content detection during walnut development. Therefore, this experiment suggested that with the maturation of walnut pellicle, the gene expression in the phenylpropanoid metabolic pathway flowed to the branch of lignin synthesis, especially in the Q variety, resulting in lower flavonoid and anthocyanin content at the maturity stage than immature. This is also the main reason for the pale pellicle of the three walnut varieties after mature. The findings of this study showed that changes in the expression levels of regulating genes for lipid, starch, sugar, and flavonoid synthesis during walnut development influenced the accumulation of the related metabolite for walnut quality formation and pellicle color. The results of this experiment provided the molecular basis and reference for the breeding of high nutritional quality walnut varieties.
Keywords: Juglans sigillata L.; Quality formation; RNA-Seq; Walnut.
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