Application of Pseudomonas fluorescens to Blackberry under Field Conditions Improves Fruit Quality by Modifying Flavonoid Metabolism.

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Application of a plant growth promoting rhizobacterium (PGPR), Pseudomonas fluorescens N21.4, to roots of blackberries (Rubus sp.) is part of an optimised cultivation practice to improve yields and quality of fruit throughout the year in this important fruit crop. Blackberries are especially rich in flavonoids and therefore offer potential benefits for human health in prevention or amelioration of chronic diseases. However, the phenylpropanoid pathway and its regulation during ripening have not been studied in detail, in this species. PGPR may trigger flavonoid biosynthesis as part of an induced systemic response (ISR) given the important role of this pathway in plant defence, to cause increased levels of flavonoids in the fruit. We have identified structural genes encoding enzymes of the phenylpropanoid and flavonoid biosynthetic pathways catalysing the conversion of phenylalanine to the final products including flavonols, anthocyanins and catechins from blackberry, and regulatory genes likely involved in controlling the activity of pathway branches. We have also measured the major flavonols, anthocyanins and catechins at three stages during ripening. Our results demonstrate the coordinated expression of flavonoid biosynthetic genes with the accumulation of anthocyanins, catechins, and flavonols in developing fruits of blackberry. Elicitation of blackberry plants by treatment of roots with P.fluorescens N21.4, caused increased expression of some flavonoid biosynthetic genes and an accompanying increase in the concentration of selected flavonoids in fruits. Our data demonstrate the physiological mechanisms involved in the improvement of fruit quality by PGPR under field conditions, and highlight some of the genetic targets of elicitation by beneficial bacteria.