Organic nitrogen nutrition: LHT1.2 protein from hybrid aspen (Populus tremula L. x tremuloides Michx) is a functional amino acid transporter and a homolog of Arabidopsis LHT1
Tree Physiol. 2021 Feb 25, Epub ahead of print
Gratz R, Ahmad I, Svennerstam H, Jämtgård S, Love J, Holmlund M, Ivanov R, Ganeteg U

The contribution of amino acids (AAs) to soil nitrogen (N) fluxes is higher than previously thought. The fact that AA uptake is pivotal for N nutrition in boreal ecosystems highlights plant AA transporters as key components of the N cycle. At the same time, very little is known about AA transport and respective transporters in trees. Tree genomes may contain thirteen or more genes encoding the LYSINE HISTIDINE TRANSPORTER (LHT) family proteins, and this complicates the study of their significance for tree N use efficiency. With the strategy of obtaining a tool to study N use efficiency, our aim was to identify and characterize a relevant AA transporter in hybrid aspen (Populus tremula L. x tremuloides Michx.). We identified PtrLHT1.2, the closest homolog of Arabidopsis thaliana AtLHT1, which is expressed in leaves, stems and roots. Complementation of a yeast AA uptake mutant verified the function of PtrLHT1.2 as an AA transporter. Furthermore, PtrLHT1.2 was able to fully complement the phenotypes of the Arabidopsis AA uptake mutant lht1 aap5, including early leaf senescence-like phenotype, reduced growth, decreased plant N levels and reduced root AA uptake. AA uptake studies finally showed that PtrLHT1.2 is a high affinity transporter for neutral and acidic AAs. Thus, we identified a functional AtLHT1 homolog in hybrid aspen, which harbors the potential to enhance overall plant N levels and hence increase biomass production. This finding provides a valuable tool for N nutrition studies in trees and opens new avenues to optimizing tree N use efficiency.

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