Variability of Pyrrolizidine Alkaloid Occurrence in Species of the Grass Subfamily Pooideae (Poaceae)
Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) are a class of secondary metabolites found in various unrelated angiosperm lineages including cool-season grasses (Poaceae, subfamily Pooideae). Thesinine conjugates, saturated forms of PA that are regarded as non-toxic, have been described to occur in the two grass species Lolium perenne and Festuca arundinacea (Poaceae, subfamily Pooideae). In a wider screen, we tested various species of the Pooideae lineage, grown under controlled conditions, for their ability to produce thesinine conjugates or related structures. Using an LC-MS based targeted metabolomics approach we were able to show that PA biosynthesis in grasses is limited to a group of very closely related Pooideae species that produce a limited diversity of PA structures. High variability in PA levels was observed even between individuals of the same species. These individual accumulation patterns are discussed with respect to a possible function and evolution of this type of alkaloid.