Background: The ratio of sugars to organic acids, two of the major metabolites in fleshy fruits, has been considered the most important contributor to fruit sweetness. Although accumulation of sugars and acids have been extensively studied, whether plants evolve a mechanism to maintain, sense or respond to the fruit sugar/acid ratio remains a mystery. In a prior study, we used an integrated systems biology tool to identify a group of 39 acid-associated genes from the fruit transcriptomes in four sweet orange varieties (Citrus sinensis L. Osbeck) with varying fruit acidity, Succari (acidless), Bingtang (low acid), and Newhall and Xinhui (normal acid).
Results: We reanalyzed the prior sweet orange fruit transcriptome data, leading to the identification of 72 genes highly correlated with the fruit sugar/acid ratio. The majority of these sugar/acid ratio-related genes are predicted to be involved in regulatory functions such as transport, signaling and transcription or encode enzymes involved in metabolism. Surprisingly, only three of these sugar/acid ratio-correlated genes are weakly correlated with sugar level and none of them overlaps with the acid-associated genes. Weighted Gene Coexpression Network Analysis (WGCNA) has revealed that these genes belong to four modules, Blue, Grey, Brown and Turquoise, with the former two modules being unique to the sugar/acid ratio control.
Conclusion: Our results indicate that orange fruits contain a possible mechanistically distinct class of genes that may potentially be involved in maintaining fruit sugar/acid ratios and/or responding to the cellular sugar/acid ratio status. Therefore, our analysis of orange transcriptomes provides an intriguing insight into the potentially novel genetic or molecular mechanisms controlling the sugar/acid ratio in fruits.