Noemi Controls Production of Flavonoid Pigments and Fruit Acidity and Illustrates the Domestication Routes of Modern Citrus Varieties.

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In citrus, the production of anthocyanin pigments requires the activity of the transcriptional activator Ruby. Consequently, loss-of-function mutations in Ruby result in an anthocyaninless phenotype [1]. Several citrus accessions, however, have lost the ability to produce these pigments despite the presence of wild-type Ruby alleles. These specific mutants have captivated the interest of botanists and breeders for centuries because the lack of anthocyanins in young leaves and flowers is also associated with a lack of proanthocyanidins in seeds and, most notably, with an extreme reduction in fruit acidity (involving about a three-unit change in pH). These mutants have been defined collectively as "acidless" [2-4]. We have identified Noemi, which encodes a basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor and which controls these apparently unrelated processes. In accessions of Citron, limetta, sweet lime, lemon, and sweet orange, acidless phenotypes are associated with large deletions or insertions of retrotransposons in the Noemi gene. In two accessions of limetta, a change in the core promoter region of Noemi is associated with reduced expression and increased pH of juice, indicating that Noemi is a major determinant of fruit acidity. The characterization of the Noemi locus in a number of varieties of Citron indicates that one specific mutation is ancient. The presence of this allele in Chinese fingered Citrons and in those used in the Sukkot Jewish ritual [5] illuminates the path of domestication of Citron, the first citrus species to be cultivated in the Mediterranean. This allele has been inherited in Citron-derived hybrids with long histories of cultivation.