In-depth analysis of the Quercus suber metabolome under drought stress and recovery reveals potential key metabolic players


Cork oak (Quercus suber L.) is a species of ecological, social and economic importance in the Mediterranean region. Given its xerophytic adaptability, the study of cork oak's response to drought stress conditions may provide important data in the global scenario of climate change. The mechanisms behind cork oak's adaptation to drought conditions can inform the design and development of tools to better manage this species under the changing climate patterns. Metabolomics is one of the most promising omics layers to capture a snapshot of a particular physiological state and to identify putative biomarkers of stress tolerance. Drastic changes were observed in the leaf metabolome of Q. suber between the different experimental conditions, namely at the beginning of the drought stress treatment, after one month under drought and post rehydration. All experimental treatments were analyzed through sPLS to inspect for global changes and stress and rehydration responses were analyzed independently for specific alterations. This allowed a more in-depth study and a search for biomarkers specific to a given hydric treatment. The metabolome analyses showed changes in both primary and secondary metabolism, but highlighted the role of secondary metabolism. In addition, a compound-specific response was observed in stress and rehydration. Key compounds such as L-phenylalanine and epigallocatechin 3-gallate were identified in relation to early drought response, terpenoid leonuridine and the flavonoid glycoside (-)-epicatechin-3'-O-glucuronide in long-term drought response, and flavone isoscoparine was identified in relation to the recovery process. The results here obtained provide novel insights into the biology of cork oak, highlighting pathways and metabolites potentially involved in the response of this species during drought and recovery that may be essential for its adaptation to long periods of drought. It is expected that this knowledge can encourage further functional studies in order to validate potential biomarkers of drought and recovery that maybe used to support decision-making in cork oak breeding programs.



subject category

Biochemistry & Molecular Biology; Plant Sciences


Almeida, T; Pinto, G; Correia, B; Goncalves, S; Meijon, M; Escandon, M



This work was supported by the projects financed by National Funds through the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) [grant number PTDC/AGRFOR/2768/2014 and PTDC/AGR-GPL/118856/2010]. TA and BC were also supported by FCT grants [SFRH/BD/44410/2008 and SFRH/BD/86448/2012]. SG was supported by the Program Ciencia 2008 (FCT), cofounded by the Human Potential Operational Program (National Strategic Reference Framework 2007e2013) and European Social Fund (EU). ME was supported by research contract [BI/UI88/7773/2017-2018] for the PTDC/AGR-FOR/2768/2014 project. The Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness supported M.M. by Ramon y Cajal Program (RYC2014-14981) and ME by the grant FJCI-2017-31613. Thanks are due to FCT/MCTES for financial support to CESAM (UIDP/50017/2020+UIDB/50017/2020) through national funds. Authors also thank to Armando Costa (University of Aveiro) for technical support.

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