Reduced free asparagine in wheat grain resulting from a natural deletion of TaASN-B2: investigating and exploiting diversity in the asparagine synthetase gene family to improve wheat quality

Abstract Background Understanding the determinants of free asparagine concentration in wheat grain is necessary to reduce levels of the processing contaminant acrylamide in baked and toasted wheat products. Although crop management strategies can help reduce asparagine concentrations, breeders have limited options to select for genetic variation underlying this trait. Asparagine synthetase enzymes catalyse a critical step in asparagine biosynthesis in plants and, in wheat, are encoded by five homeologous gene triads that exhibit distinct expression profiles. Within this family, TaASN2 genes are highly expressed during grain development but TaASN-B2 is absent in some varieties.

Results Natural genetic diversity in the asparagine synthetase gene family was assessed in different wheat varieties revealing instances of presence/absence variation and other polymorphisms, including some predicted to affect the function of the encoded protein. The presence and absence of TaASN-B2 was determined across a range of UK and global common wheat varieties and related species, showing that the deletion encompassing this gene was already present in some wild emmer wheat genotypes. Expression profiling confirmed that TaASN2 transcripts were only detectable in the grain, while TaASN3.1 genes were highly expressed during the early stages of grain development. TaASN-A2 was the most highly expressed TaASN2 homeologue in most assayed wheat varieties. TaASN-B2 and TaASN-D2 were expressed at similar, lower levels in varieties possessing TaASN-B2. Expression of TaASN-A2 and TaASN-D2 did not increase to compensate for the absence of TaASN-B2, so total TaASN2 expression was lower in varieties lacking TaASN-B2. Consequently, free asparagine concentrations in field-produced grain were, on average, lower in varieties lacking TaASN-B2, although the effect was lost when free asparagine accumulated to very high concentrations as a result of sulphur deficiency.

Conclusions Selecting wheat genotypes lacking the TaASN-B2 gene may be a simple and rapid way for breeders to reduce free asparagine concentrations in commercial wheat grain.

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  • Name: Oddy, Joseph, Type: Corresponding Author,
  • Name: Alarcón-Reverte, Rocío, Type: Author,
  • Name: Wilkinson, Mark, Type: Author,
  • Name: Ravet, Karl, Type: Author,
  • Name: Raffan, Sarah, Type: Author,
  • Name: Minter, Andrea, Type: Author,
  • Name: Mead, Andrew, Type: Author,
  • Name: Elmore, J. Stephen, Type: Author,
  • Name: de Almeida, Isabel Moreira, Type: Author,
  • Name: Cryer, Nicholas C., Type: Author,
  • Name: Halford, Nigel G., Type: Author,
  • Name: Pearce, Stephen, Type: Author,
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DFW Organisation RRes
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DOI 10.1186/s12870-021-03058-7
Date Last Updated 2021-09-10T12:22:16.932861
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