How Ginseng Roots Grow: A Look at Their Changing Chemistry and Genes

Greg Howard
6th March, 2024

How Ginseng Roots Grow: A Look at Their Changing Chemistry and Genes

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In China, a study found that Panax notoginseng taproots change chemically as they age
  • Young taproots have more amino acids and lipids, while older ones increase in flavonoids and terpenoids
  • Researchers linked these changes to specific genes, aiding future crop quality and cultivation
Panax notoginseng, a plant revered in Chinese medicine for its therapeutic roots, is facing a challenge. The quality and yield of its taproots, which are rich in health-promoting compounds called triterpenoid saponins, are not fully understood, particularly how these change during the plant's development. Researchers at Yunnan Agricultural University have made strides in uncovering the metabolic and genetic shifts that occur as these taproots mature[1]. The study conducted by the Yunnan Agricultural University team delved into the taproots at different growth stages: one, two, and three years old. They found that the taproots' chemical makeup changes significantly with age. In younger, one-year-old taproots, amino acids, nucleotides, and lipids are more prominent. As the roots age, there's a shift towards an increase in flavonoids and terpenoids in the two- and three-year-old taproots, with a notable rise in phenolic acids in the oldest taproots studied. These findings are significant because they provide a window into the plant's metabolic machinery. The study's integrative approach, combining metabolomic and transcriptomic analyses, allowed the researchers to link these chemical changes to specific genes that were turned on or off during development. They pinpointed the phenylpropanoid biosynthesis pathway as a key player not only in taproot development but also in the production of secondary metabolites, which include the valuable triterpenoid saponins. Interestingly, the study also identified a gene encoding an RNase-like major storage protein that appears to have a dual role. It's involved in the development of the taproots and in the synthesis of triterpenoid saponins. This dual functionality is reminiscent of recent insights into plant metabolism, where secondary metabolites are recognized to have multiple roles beyond plant defense, including growth regulation[2]. The research at Yunnan Agricultural University builds on the understanding of how plants produce and regulate their chemical compounds. For instance, previous studies have shown that manipulating specific genes in barley can alter the composition of lignin, a plant polymer, without affecting other plant traits[3]. This kind of genetic tweaking is crucial for improving crops for agricultural and industrial uses. The study also sheds light on the complex interactions between plants and their environment. For example, the accumulation of certain phenolic acids in the soil can lead to soil sickness in continuous cropping systems, as seen in Panax notoginseng[4]. Moreover, these phenolic acids can influence the soil microbiome, which in turn affects plant health and disease, particularly root rot[5]. By understanding the molecular mechanisms at play in Panax notoginseng taproots, researchers can better grasp how primary metabolites necessary for growth and secondary metabolites, which mediate plant-environment interactions, are intertwined. This knowledge is crucial for improving the cultivation and quality of P. notoginseng and potentially other crops facing similar challenges. The significance of the Yunnan Agricultural University's research extends beyond the realms of traditional medicine and agriculture. It provides a basis for future genetic improvement of P. notoginseng, ensuring that the plants are healthier, more productive, and continue to serve as a valuable resource for medicinal purposes. This study not only advances our understanding of a key medicinal plant but also contributes to the broader field of plant science, where the dynamic between primary and secondary metabolites is being re-evaluated and appreciated in new ways.

BiotechBiochemPlant Science


Main Study

1) Integrated metabolome and transcriptome analyses reveal the molecular mechanism underlying dynamic metabolic processes during taproot development of Panax notoginseng.

Published 5th March, 2024

Related Studies

2) Plant Secondary Metabolites as Defenses, Regulators, and Primary Metabolites: The Blurred Functional Trichotomy.

3) Downregulation of barley ferulate 5-hydroxylase dramatically alters straw lignin structure without impact on mechanical properties.

4) Interactions Between Phenolic Acids and Microorganisms in Rhizospheric Soil From Continuous Cropping of Panax notoginseng.

5) Autotoxin Rg1 Induces Degradation of Root Cell Walls and Aggravates Root Rot by Modifying the Rhizospheric Microbiome.

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