A comparative analysis of phenylpropanoid metabolism, N utilization, and carbon partitioning in fast- and slow-growing Populus hybrid clones

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The biosynthetic costs of phenylpropanoid-derived condensed tannins (CTs) and phenolic glycosides (PGs) are substantial. However, despite reports of negative correlations between leaf phenolic content and growth of Populus, it remains unclear whether or how foliar biosynthesis of CT/PG interferes with tree growth. A comparison was made of carbon partitioning and N content in developmentally staged leaves, stems, and roots of two closely related Populus hybrid genotypes. The genotypes were selected as two of the most phytochemically divergent from a series of seven previously analysed clones that exhibit a range of height growth rates and foliar amino acid, CT, and PG concentrations. The objective was to analyse the relationship between leaf phenolic content and plant growth, using whole-plant carbon partitioning and N distribution data from the two divergent clones. Total N as a percentage of tissue dry mass was comparatively low, and CT and PG accrual comparatively high in leaves of the slow-growing clone. Phenylpropanoid accrual and N content were comparatively high in stems of the slow-growing clone. Carbon partitioning within phenylpropanoid and carbohydrate networks in developing stems differed sharply between clones. The results did not support the idea that foliar production of phenylpropanoid defence chemicals was the primary cause of reduced plant growth in the slow-growing clone. The findings are discussed in the context of metabolic mechanism(s) which may contribute to reduced N delivery from roots to leaves, thereby compromising tree growth and promoting leaf phenolic accrual in the slow-growing clone.

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Journal of Experimental Botany