Nitrogen availability and allocation in sorghum and its wild relatives: Divergent roles for cyanogenic glucosides

Harry Myrans, Rebecca K. Vandegeer, Robert J. Henry, Roslyn M. Gleadow

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Crop plants are assumed to have become more susceptible to pests as a result of selection for high growth rates during the process of domestication, consistent with resource allocation theories. We compared the investment by domesticated sorghum into cyanogenic glucosides, nitrogen-based specialised metabolites that break down to release hydrogen cyanide, with five wild relatives native to Australia. Plants were grown in pots in a greenhouse and supplied with low and high concentrations of nitrogen and monitored for 9 weeks. The concentrations of nitrate, total phenolics and silicon were also measured. Domesticated Sorghum bicolor had the highest leaf and root cyanogenic glucoside concentrations, and among the lowest nitrate and silicon concentrations under both treatments. Despite partitioning a much higher proportion of its stored nitrogen to cyanogenic glucosides than the wild species, S. bicolor's nitrogen productivity levels were among the highest. Most of the wild sorghums had higher concentrations of silicon and phenolics, which may provide an alternative defence system. Cyanogenic glucosides appear to be integral to S. bicolor's physiology, having roles in both growth and defence. Sorghum macrospermum displayed consistently low cyanogenic glucoside concentrations, high growth rates and high nitrogen productivity and represents a particularly attractive genetic resource for sorghum improvement.

Original languageEnglish
Article number153393
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Plant Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021


  • Crop improvement
  • Crop wild relatives
  • Cyanogenesis
  • Dhurrin
  • Herbivore resistance
  • Nitrogen productivity
  • Sorghum

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