Albino tea plants (Camellia sinensis) have been reported to possess highly inhibited metabolism of flavonoids compared to regular green tea leaves, which improves the quality of the tea made from these leaves. However, the mechanisms underlying the metabolism of catechins and flavonols in albino tea leaves have not been well elucidated. In this study, we analyzed a time series of leaf samples in the greening process from albino to green in a thermosensitive leaf-color tea mutant using metabolomics and transcriptomics. The total content of polyphenols dramatically decreased, while flavonols (such as rutin) were highly accumulated in albino leaves compared to in green leaves. After treatment with increasing environment temperature, total polyphenols and catechins were increased in albino mutant tea leaves; however, flavonols (especially ortho-dihydroxylated B-rings such as rutin) were decreased. Meanwhile, weighted gene co-expression network analysis of RNA-seq data suggested that the accumulation of flavonols was highly correlated with genes related to reactive oxygen species scavenging. Histochemical localization further demonstrated that this specific accumulation of flavonols might be related to their biological functions in stress tolerance. These findings suggest that the temperature-stimulated accumulation of total polyphenols and catechins in albino mutant tea leaves was highly induced by enhanced photosynthesis and accumulation of its products, while the initial accumulation and temperature inhibition of flavonols in albino mutant tea leaves were associated with metabolism related to oxidative stress. In conclusion, our results indicate that the biosynthesis of flavonoids could be driven by many different factors, including antioxidation and carbon skeleton storage, under favorable and unfavorable circumstances, respectively. This work provides new insights into the drivers of flavonoid biosynthesis in albino tea leaves, which will further help to increase tea quality by improving cultivation measures.
Keywords: Camellia sinensis; albino mutation; flavonoids; metabolism.