09 June 2021
Mycoheterotrophic plants have lost the ability to photosynthesize and obtain essential mineral and organic nutrients from associated soil fungi. Despite involving radical changes in life history traits and ecological requirements, the transition from autotrophy to mycoheterotrophy has occurred independently in many major lineages of land plants, most frequently in Orchidaceae. Yet the molecular mechanisms underlying this shift are still poorly understood. A comparison of the transcriptomes of Epipogium aphyllum and Neottia nidus-avis, two completely mycoheterotrophic orchids, to other autotrophic and mycoheterotrophic orchids showed the unexpected retention of several genes associated with photosynthetic activities. In addition to these selected retentions, the analysis of their expression profiles showed that many orthologs had inverted underground/aboveground expression ratios compared to autotrophic species. Fatty acid and amino acid biosynthesis as well as primary cell wall metabolism were among the pathways most impacted by this expression reprogramming. Our study suggests that the shift in nutritional mode from autotrophy to mycoheterotrophy remodeled the architecture of the plant metabolism but was associated primarily with function losses rather than metabolic innovations.