Tea plant roots respond to aluminum-induced mineral nutrient imbalances by transcriptional regulation of multiple cation and anion transporters

Jing Hao, Anqi Peng, Yingying Li, Hao Zuo, Ping Li, Jinsong Wang, Keke Yu, Chun Liu, Shancen Zhao, Xiaochun Wang, Jon K. Pittman, Jian Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tea is one of the most popular non-alcoholic beverages in the world for its flavors and numerous health benefits. The tea tree (Camellia sinensis L.) is a well-known aluminum (Al) hyperaccumulator. However, it is not fully understood how tea plants have adapted to tolerate high concentrations of Al, which causes an imbalance of mineral nutrition in the roots.

Here, we combined ionomic and transcriptomic profiling alongside biochemical characterization, to probe the changes of metal nutrients and Al responsive genes in tea roots grown under increasing concentrations of Al. It was found that a low level of Al (~ 0.4 mM) maintains proper nutrient balance, whereas a higher Al concentration (2.5 mM) compromised tea plants by altering micro- and macro-nutrient accumulation into roots, including a decrease in calcium (Ca), manganese (Mn), and magnesium (Mg) and an increase in iron (Fe), which corresponded with oxidative stress, cellular damage, and retarded root growth. Transcriptome analysis revealed more than 1000 transporter genes that were significantly changed in expression upon Al exposure compared to control (no Al) treatments. These included transporters related to Ca and Fe uptake and translocation, while genes required for N, P, and S nutrition in roots did not significantly alter. Transporters related to organic acid secretion, together with other putative Al-tolerance genes also significantly changed in response to Al. Two of these transporters, CsALMT1 and CsALS8, were functionally tested by yeast heterologous expression and confirmed to provide Al tolerance.

This study shows that tea plant roots respond to high Al-induced mineral nutrient imbalances by transcriptional regulation of both cation and anion transporters, and therefore provides new insights into Al tolerance mechanism of tea plants. The altered transporter gene expression profiles partly explain the imbalanced metal ion accumulation that occurred in the Al-stressed roots, while increases to organic acid and Al tolerance gene expression partly explains the ability of tea plants to be able to grow in high Al containing soils. The improved transcriptomic understanding of Al exposure gained here has highlighted potential gene targets for breeding or genetic engineering approaches to develop safer tea products.
Original languageEnglish
Article number203
JournalBMC Plant Biology
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2022


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