Metabolic control analysis and regulation of the conversion of sucrose to starch in growing potato tubers


A.R. Fernie. Fax: +49 3315678408; e-mail:


Starch is of great importance both as a carbon storage reserve in plants and as a biotechnologically important product. The potato tuber is an attractive model system for the study of starch metabolism, because it is a relatively homogenous tissue in which conversion of sucrose to starch represents the dominant metabolic flux. All the major genes of the potato tuber sucrose to starch pathway have been cloned in recent years, allowing the generation of a suite of antisense transgenic lines to be produced in which the activity of each individual enzyme in the pathway is progressively decreased. Investigations of these plants have provided a complete picture of the distribution of control in this important pathway. Sucrose synthase, UGPase, hexokinase, cytosolic phosphoglucomutase, plastidial phosphoglucomutase, the amyloplastidial adenylate translocator, AGPase, starch synthase and starch branching enzyme have flux control coefficients (FCCs) of 0.10, approximating 0.00, approximating 0.00, 0.15, 0.23, 0.98, 0.35, 0.12 and approximating 0.00 for starch accumulation. These results show that the majority of the control on starch accumulation in potato tubers resides in the transfer of adenylate between the cytosol and the amyloplast, with a minor contribution being made by the first two steps of the plastidial starch synthesis pathway (the reactions catalysed by plastidial phosphoglucomutase and AGPase). This contrasts with leaves, in which the majority of the control has been found to reside in the reactions catalysed by plastidial phosphoglucomutase and AGPase. In leaves, ATP for starch synthesis is generated within the plastid via photophosphorylation. Several studies have attempted to increase the rate of starch synthesis by overexpressing pathway enzymes in tubers. The results of these studies and the role of other ATP producers in the starch synthetic process are reviewed. In the same time period methods of non-aqueous fractionation have been adapted to potato tuber tissue in order to ascertain subcellular metabolite levels. Results obtained from these studies allow the calculation of mass action ratios of the constitutive enzymes of the sucrose to starch transition. When taken together with the known regulatory properties of these enzymes the combination of broad control analysis studies and assessment of the mass action ratios of the respective enzymes allows a comprehensive description of this important metabolic network. Some illustrative examples of how this network responds to environmental change are presented. Finally implications of this whole pathway evaluation for more general studies of plant metabolic pathways and networks are discussed.