Phylogeny predicts the quantity of antimalarial alkaloids within the iconic yellow Cinchona bark (Rubiaceae: Cinchona calisaya)

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Carla Brenda Maldonado Goyzueta, Christopher James Barnes, Claus Cornett, Else Skovgaard Holmfred, Steen Honoré Hansen, Claes Persson, Alexandre Antonelli, Nina Rønsted

Considerable inter- and intraspecific variation with respect to the quantity and composition of plant natural products exists. The processes that drive this variation remain largely unknown. Understanding which factors determine chemical diversity has the potential to shed light on plant defenses against herbivores and diseases and accelerate drug discovery. For centuries, Cinchona alkaloids were the primary treatment of malaria. Using Cinchona calisaya as a model, we generated genetic profiles of leaf samples from four plastid (trnL-F, matK, rps16, and ndhF) and one nuclear (ITS) DNA regions from twenty-two C. calisaya stands sampled in the Yungas region of Bolivia. Climatic and soil parameters were characterized and bark samples were analyzed for content of the four major alkaloids using HPLC-UV to explore the utility of evolutionary history (phylogeny) in determining variation within species of these compounds under natural conditions. A significant phylogenetic signal was found for the content of two out of four major Cinchona alkaloids (quinine and cinchonidine) and their total content. Climatic parameters, primarily driven by changing altitude, predicted 20.2% of the overall alkaloid variation, and geographical separation accounted for a further 9.7%. A clade of high alkaloid producing trees was identified that spanned a narrow range of altitudes, from 1,100 to 1,350 m. However, climate expressed by altitude was not a significant driver when accounting for phylogeny, suggesting that the chemical diversity is primarily driven by phylogeny. Comparisons of the relative effects of both environmental and genetic variability in determining plant chemical diversity have scarcely been performed at the genotypic level. In this study we demonstrate there is an essential need to do so if the extensive genotypic variation in plant biochemistry is to be fully understood.
Original languageEnglish
Article number391
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Volume8
Number of pages16
ISSN1664-462X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2017

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