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Raffinose synthase enhances drought tolerance through raffinose synthesis or galactinol hydrolysis in maize and Arabidopsis plants

Tao Li, Yumin Zhang, Ying Liu, Xudong Li , Guanglong Hao, Qinghui Han, Lynnette M.A. Dirk , A. Bruce Downie, Yong-Ling Ruan, Jianmin Wang, Guoying Wang , Tianyong Zhao


Journal of Biological Chemistry

doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA120.013948 jbc


Abstract :

Raffinose and its precursor galactinol accumulate in plant leaves during abiotic stress. RAFFINOSE SYNTHASE (RAFS) catalyzes raffinose formation by transferring a galactosyl group of galactinol to sucrose. However, whether RAFS contributes to plant drought tolerance and, if so, by what mechanism remains unclear. In this study, we report that expression of RAFS from maize (or corn, Zea mays) (ZmRAFS) is induced by drought, heat, cold, and salinity stresses. We found that zmrafs mutant maize plants completely lack raffinose and hyper-accumulate galactinol and are more sensitive to drought stress than the corresponding null-segregant (NS) plants. This indicated that ZmRAFS and its product raffinose contribute to plant drought tolerance. ZmRAFS overexpression in Arabidopsis enhanced drought stress tolerance by increasing myo-inositol levels via ZmRAFS-mediated galactinol hydrolysis in the leaves due to sucrose insufficiency in leaf cells and also enhanced raffinose synthesis in the seeds. Supplementation of sucrose to detached leaves converted ZmRAFS from hydrolyzing galactinol to synthesizing raffinose. Taken together, we demonstrate that ZmRAFS enhances plant drought tolerance through either raffinose synthesis or galactinol hydrolysis, depending on sucrose availability in plant cells. These results provide new avenues to improve plant drought stress tolerance through manipulation of the raffinose anabolic pathway.