Evolutionary expansion and functional divergence of sugar transporters in Saccharum (S. spontaneum and S. officinarum)

Qing Zhang, Xiuting Hua, Hong Liu, Yuan Yuan, Yan Shi, Zhengchao Wang, Muqing Zhang, Ray Ming, Jisen Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The sugar transporter (ST) family is considered to be the most important gene family for sugar accumulation, but limited information about the ST family in the important sugar-yielding crop Saccharum is available due to its complex genetic background. Here, 105 ST genes were identified and clustered into eight subfamilies in Saccharum spontaneum. Comparative genomics revealed that tandem duplication events contributed to ST gene expansions of two subfamilies, PLT and STP, in S. spontaneum, indicating an early evolutionary step towards high sugar content in Saccharum. The analyses of expression patterns were based on four large datasets with a total of 226 RNA sequencing samples from S. spontaneum and Saccharum officinarum. The results clearly demonstrated 50 ST genes had different spatiotemporal expression patterns in leaf tissues, 10 STs were specifically expressed in the stem, and 10 STs responded to the diurnal rhythm. Heterologous expression experiments in the defective yeast strain EBY.VW4000 indicated STP13, pGlcT2, VGT3, and TMT4 are the STs with most affinity for glucose/fructose and SUT1_T1 has the highest affinity to sucrose. Furthermore, metabolomics analysis suggested STP7 is a sugar starvation-induced gene and STP13 has a function in retrieving sugar in senescent tissues. PLT11, PLT11_T1, TMT3, and TMT4 contributed to breaking the limitations of the storage sink. SUT1, SUT1_T1, PLT11, TMT4, pGlcT2, and VGT3 responded for different functions in these two Saccharum species. This study demonstrated the evolutionary expansion and functional divergence of the ST gene family and will enable the further investigation of the molecular mechanism of sugar metabolism in Saccharum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)884-906
Number of pages23
JournalPlant Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Saccharum officinarum
  • Saccharum spontaneum
  • evolutionary expansion
  • functional divergence
  • sugar transporter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Plant Science
  • Cell Biology


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