Disentangling hydroxynitrile glucoside biosynthesis in a barley (Hordeum vulgare) metabolon provides access to elite malting barleys for ethyl carbamate-free whisky production

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Barley produces several specialized metabolites, including five α-, β-, and γ-hydroxynitrile glucosides (HNGs). In malting barley, presence of the α-HNG epiheterodendrin gives rise to undesired formation of ethyl carbamate in the beverage production, especially after distilling. Metabolite-GWAS identified QTLs and underlying gene candidates possibly involved in the control of the relative and absolute content of HNGs, including an undescribed MATE transporter. By screening 325 genetically diverse barley accessions, we discovered three H. vulgare ssp. spontaneum (wild barley) lines with drastic changes in the relative ratios of the five HNGs. Knock-out (KO)-lines, isolated from the barley FIND-IT resource and each lacking one of the functional HNG biosynthetic genes (CYP79A12, CYP71C103, CYP71C113, CYP71U5, UGT85F22 and UGT85F23) showed unprecedented changes in HNG ratios enabling assignment of specific and mutually dependent catalytic functions to the biosynthetic enzymes involved. The highly similar relative ratios between the five HNGs found across wild and domesticated barley accessions indicate assembly of the HNG biosynthetic enzymes in a metabolon, the functional output of which was reconfigured in the absence of a single protein component. The absence or altered ratios of the five HNGs in the KO-lines did not change susceptibility to the fungal phytopathogen Pyrenophora teres causing net blotch. The study provides a deeper understanding of the organization of HNG biosynthesis in barley and identifies a novel, single gene HNG-0 line in an elite spring barley background for direct use in breeding of malting barley, eliminating HNGs as a source of ethyl carbamate formation in whisky production.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant Journal
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

© 2024 The Authors. The Plant Journal published by Society for Experimental Biology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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