Incomplete transfer of accessory loci influencing SbMATE expression underlies genetic background effects for aluminum tolerance in sorghum


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Impaired root development caused by aluminum (Al) toxicity is a major cause of grain yield reduction in crops cultivated on acid soils, which are widespread worldwide. In sorghum, the major Al-tolerance locus, AltSB, is due to the function of SbMATE, which is an Al-activated root citrate transporter. Here we performed a molecular and physiological characterization of various AltSB donors and near-isogenic lines harboring various AltSB alleles. We observed a partial transfer of Al tolerance from the parents to the near-isogenic lines that was consistent across donor alleles, emphasizing the occurrence of strong genetic background effects related to AltSB. This reduction in tolerance was variable, with a 20% reduction being observed when highly Al-tolerant lines were the AltSB donors, and a reduction as great as 70% when other AltSB alleles were introgressed. This reduction in Al tolerance was closely correlated with a reduction in SbMATE expression in near-isogenic lines, suggesting incomplete transfer of loci acting in trans on SbMATE. Nevertheless, AltSB alleles from the highly Al-tolerant sources SC283 and SC566 were found to retain high SbMATE expression, presumably via elements present within or near the AltSB locus, resulting in significant transfer of the Al-tolerance phenotype to the derived near-isogenic lines. Allelic effects could not be explained by coding region polymorphisms, although occasional mutations may affect Al tolerance. Finally, we report on the extensive occurrence of alternative splicing for SbMATE, which may be an important component regulating SbMATE expression in sorghum by means of the nonsense-mediated RNA decay pathway.