Silene latifolia and its pollinator, the noctuid moth Hadena bicruris, represent an open nursery pollination system wherein floral volatiles, especially veratrole (1, 2-dimethoxybenzene), lilac aldehydes, and phenylacetaldehyde are of key importance for floral signaling. Despite the important role of floral scent in ensuring reproductive success in S. latifolia, the molecular basis of scent biosynthesis in this species has not yet been investigated.
We isolated two full-length cDNAs from S. latifolia that show similarity to rose orcinol O-methyltransferase. Biochemical analysis showed that both S. latifolia guaiacol O-methyltransferase1 (SlGOMT1) &S. latifolia guaiacol O-methyltransferase2 (SlGOMT2) encode proteins that catalyze the methylation of guaiacol to form veratrole. A large Km value difference between SlGOMT1 (~10 μM) and SlGOMT2 (~501 μM) resulted that SlGOMT1 is 31-fold more catalytically efficient than SlGOMT2. qRT-PCR expression analysis showed that the SlGOMT genes are specifically expressed in flowers and male S. latifolia flowers had 3- to 4-folds higher level of GOMT gene transcripts than female flower tissues. Two related cDNAs, S. dioica O-methyltransferase1 (SdOMT1) and S. dioica O-methyltransferase2 (SdOMT2), were also obtained from the sister species Silene dioica, but the proteins they encode did not methylate guaiacol, consistent with the lack of veratrole emission in the flowers of this species. Our evolutionary analysis uncovered that SlGOMT1 and SlGOMT2 genes evolved under positive selection, whereas SdOMT1 and SdOMT2 genes show no evidence for selection.
Altogether, we report the identification and functional characterization of the gene, SlGOMT1 that efficiently catalyzes veratrole formation, whereas another copy of this gene with only one amino acid difference, SlGOMT2 was found to be less efficient for veratrole synthesis in S. latifolia.