pp 1–15 | Cite as

Comparative metabolite profiling of two switchgrass ecotypes reveals differences in drought stress responses and rhizosheath weight

  • Tie-Yuan Liu
  • Mo-Xian Chen
  • Youjun Zhang
  • Fu-Yuan Zhu
  • Ying-Gao Liu
  • Yuan Tian
  • Alisdair R. Fernie
  • Nenghui YeEmail author
  • Jianhua ZhangEmail author
Original Article


Main conclusion

Rhizosheath comprises soil that adheres firmly to roots. In this study, two ecotypes of switchgrass with different rhizosheath sizes after drought stress were analyzed which showed metabolic differences under drought conditions.


The rhizosheath comprises soil that adheres firmly to roots by a combination of root hairs and mucilage and may aid in root growth under soil drying. The aim of this work is to reveal the potential metabolites involved in rhizosheath formation under drought stress conditions. Panicum virgatum L. (switchgrass), which belongs to the Poaceae family, is an important biofuel and fodder crop in drought areas. Five switchgrass ecotypes (cv. Alamo, cv. Blackwake, cv. Summer, cv. Cave-in-Rock and cv. Kanlow) have a broad range of rhizosheath weight under drought conditions. For two selected ecotypes with contrast rhizosheath weight (cv. Alamo and cv. Kanlow), root hair length and density, lateral root number, root morphological parameters were measured, and real-time qRT-PCR was performed. Gas chromatography mass spectrophotometry (GC–MS) was used to determine the primary metabolites in the shoots and roots of selected ecotypes under drought stress conditions. The change trends of root hair length and density, lateral root number and related gene expression were consistent with rhizosheath weight in Alamo and Kanlow under drought and watered conditions. For root morphological parameters, Alamo grew deeper than Kanlow, while Kanlow exhibited higher values for other parameters. In this study, the levels of amino acids, sugars and organic acids were significantly changed in response to drought stress in two switchgrass ecotypes. Several metabolites including amino acids (arginine, isoleucine, methionine and cysteine) and sugars (kestose, raffinose, fructose, fucose, sorbose and xylose) in the large soil-sheathed roots of Alamo and Kanlow were significantly increased compared to small or no soil-sheathed roots of Alamo and Kanlow. Difference in rhizosheath size is reflected in the plant internal metabolites under drought stress conditions. Additionally, our results highlight the importance of using metabolite profiling and provide a better understanding of rhizosheath formation at the cellular level.


Metabolite profiling Panicum virgatum L. Rhizosheath Root growth Water stress 



This work was supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFD0301502), the Natural Science Foundation of Hunan Province (2019JJ50263), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC 31771701), the Shenzhen Virtual University Park Support Scheme to CUHK Shenzhen Research Institute and the Hong Kong Research Grant Council (AoE/M-05/12, AoE/M-403/16, GRF 14160516, 14177617, 12100318).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary material

425_2019_3228_MOESM1_ESM.docx (18.3 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 18736 kb)
425_2019_3228_MOESM2_ESM.docx (41 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 41 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Grassland AgricultureNorthwest A&F UniversityYanglingChina
  2. 2.Southern Regional Collaborative Innovation Center for Grain and Oil Crops in China, College of AgricultureHunan Agricultural UniversityChangshaChina
  3. 3.School of Life Sciences and State Key Laboratory of AgrobiotechnologyThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong
  4. 4.Shenzhen Research InstituteThe Chinese University of Hong KongShenzhenChina
  5. 5.Center of Plant System Biology and BiotechnologyPlovdivBulgaria
  6. 6.Max-Planck-Institut fur Molekulare PflanzenphysiologiePotsdam-GolmGermany
  7. 7.College of Biology and the EnvironmentNanjing Forestry UniversityNanjingChina
  8. 8.State Key Laboratory of Crop Biology, College of Life SciencesShandong Agricultural UniversityTaianChina
  9. 9.Department of Biology, Hong Kong Baptist University, and State Key Laboratory of AgrobiotechnologyThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong

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