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The New phytologist

High-level expression of a novel chromoplast phosphate transporter ClPHT4;2 is required for flesh color development in watermelon.


PMID 27787901

Abstract

Chromoplast development plays a crucial role in controlling carotenoid content in watermelon flesh. Modern cultivated watermelons with colorful flesh are believed to originate from pale-colored and no-sweet progenitors. But the molecular basis of flesh color formation and regulation is poorly understood. More chromoplasts and released carotenoid globules were observed in the red-fleshed fruit of the 97103 cultivar than in the pale-colored fruits of the PI296341-FR line. Transcriptome profiles of these two materials identified Cla017962, predicted as ClPHT4;2, was dramatically up-regulated during flesh color formation. High ClPHT4;2 expression levels were closely correlated with increased flesh carotenoid contents among 198 representative watermelon accessions. Down-regulation of ClPHT4;2 expression in transgenic watermelons reduced the fruit carotenoid accumulation. ClPHT4;2 as a function of chromoplast-localized phosophate transporter was tested by heterologous expression into a yeast phosphate-uptake-defective mutant, western blotting, subcellular localization, and immunogold electron microscopy analysis. Two transcription factors, ClbZIP1 and ClbZIP2, were identified, which responded to ABA and sugar signaling to regulate ClPHT4;2 transcription only in cultivated watermelon species. Our findings suggest that elevated ClPHT4;2 gene expression is necessary for carotenoid accumulation, and may help to characterize the co-development of flesh color and sweetness during watermelon development and domestication.

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