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Comparative transcriptome analysis to investigate the high starch accumulation of duckweed (Landoltia punctata) under nutrient starvation

Xiang Tao12, Yang Fang1, Yao Xiao1, Yan-ling Jin1, Xin-rong Ma1, Yun Zhao2, Kai-ze He1, Hai Zhao1* and Hai-yan Wang2*

Author Affiliations

1 Chengdu Institute of Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chengdu, Sichuan 610041, China

2 College of Life Sciences, Key Laboratory of Bio-resources and Eco-environment, Ministry of Education, Sichuan Key Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Sichuan University, Chengdu, Sichuan, 610064, China

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Biotechnology for Biofuels 2013, 6:72  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-6-72

Published: 8 May 2013



Duckweed can thrive on anthropogenic wastewater and produce tremendous biomass production. Due to its relatively high starch and low lignin percentage, duckweed is a good candidate for bioethanol fermentation. Previous studies have observed that water devoid of nutrients is good for starch accumulation, but its molecular mechanism remains unrevealed.


This study globally analyzed the response to nutrient starvation in order to investigate the starch accumulation in duckweed (Landoltia punctata). L. punctata was transferred from nutrient-rich solution to distilled water and sampled at different time points. Physiological measurements demonstrated that the activity of ADP-glucose pyrophosphorylase, the key enzyme of starch synthesis, as well as the starch percentage in duckweed, increased continuously under nutrient starvation. Samples collected at 0 h, 2 h and 24 h time points respectively were used for comparative gene expression analysis using RNA-Seq. A comprehensive transcriptome, comprising of 74,797 contigs, was constructed by a de novo assembly of the RNA-Seq reads. Gene expression profiling results showed that the expression of some transcripts encoding key enzymes involved in starch biosynthesis was up-regulated, while the expression of transcripts encoding enzymes involved in starch consumption were down-regulated, the expression of some photosynthesis-related transcripts were down-regulated during the first 24 h, and the expression of some transporter transcripts were up-regulated within the first 2 h. Very interestingly, most transcripts encoding key enzymes involved in flavonoid biosynthesis were highly expressed regardless of starvation, while transcripts encoding laccase, the last rate-limiting enzyme of lignifications, exhibited very low expression abundance in all three samples.


Our study provides a comprehensive expression profiling of L. punctata under nutrient starvation, which indicates that nutrient starvation down-regulated the global metabolic status, redirects metabolic flux of fixed CO2 into starch synthesis branch resulting in starch accumulation in L. punctata.

Duckweed; Transcriptome; Bioethanol; Nutrient starvation; Starch accumulation; Metabolic flux