Background: Pennycress [Thlaspi arvense L (Brassicaceae)] is being domesticated as a renewable biodiesel feedstock that also provides crucial ecosystems services, including as a nutritional resource for pollinators. However, its flowers produce significantly less nectar than other crop relatives in the Brassicaceae. This study was undertaken to understand the basic biology of the pennycress nectary as an initial step toward the possibility of enhancing nectar output from its flowers. Results: Pennycress flowers contain four equivalent nectaries located extrastaminally at the base of the insertion sites of short and long stamens. Like other Brassicaceae, the nectaries have open stomates on their surface, which likely serve as the sites of nectar secretion. The nectaries produce four distinct nectar droplets that accumulate in concave structures at the base of each of the four petals. To understand the molecular biology of the pennycress nectary, RNA was isolated from 'immature' (pre-secretory) and 'mature' (secretory) nectaries and subjected to RNA-seq. Approximately 184M paired-end reads (368M total reads) were de novo assembled into a total of 16,074 independent contigs, which mapped to 12,335 unique genes in the pennycress genome. Nearly 3700 genes were found to be differentially expressed between immature and mature nectaries and subjected to gene ontology and metabolic pathway analyses. Lastly, in silico analyses identified 158 pennycress orthologs to Arabidopsis genes with known enriched expression in nectaries. These nectary-enriched expression patterns were verified for select pennycress loci by semi-quantitative RT-PCR. Conclusions: Pennycress nectaries are unique relative to those of other agriculturally important Brassicaceae, as they contain four equivalent nectaries that present their nectar in specialized cup-shaped structures at the base of the petals. In spite of these morphological differences, the genes underlying the regulation and production of nectar appear to be largely conserved between pennycress and Arabidopsis thaliana. These results provide a starting point for using forward and reverse genetics approaches to enhance nectar synthesis and secretion in pennycress.
- Thlaspi arvense