Comparative Metabolite Profile, Biological Activity and Overall Quality of Three Lettuce (Lactuca sativa L., Asteraceae) Cultivars in Response to Sulfur Nutrition

The main objective of the present study was to assess the effects of sulfur (S) nutrition on plant growth, overall quality, secondary metabolites, and antibacterial and radical scavenging activities of hydroponically grown lettuce cultivars. Three lettuce cultivars, namely, Pazmanea RZ (green butterhead, V1), Hawking RZ (green multi-leaf lettuce, V2), and Barlach RZ (red multi-leaf, V3) were subjected to two S-treatments in the form of magnesium sulfate (+S) or magnesium chloride (-S). Significant differences were observed under -S treatments, especially among V1 and V2 lettuce cultivars. These responses were reflected in the yield, levels of macro- and micro-nutrients, water-soluble sugars, and free inorganic anions. In comparison with the green cultivars (V1 and V2), the red-V3 cultivar revealed a greater acclimation to S starvation, as evidenced by relative higher plant growth. In contrast, the green cultivars showed higher capabilities in production and superior quality attributes under +S condition. As for secondary metabolites, sixteen compounds (e.g., sesquiterpene lactones, caffeoyl derivatives, caffeic acid hexose, 5-caffeoylquinic acid (5-OCQA), quercetin and luteolin glucoside derivatives) were annotated in all three cultivars with the aid of HPLC-DAD-MS-based untargeted metabolomics. Sesquiterpene lactone lactucin and anthocyanin cyanidin 3-O-galactoside were only detected in V1 and V3 cultivars, respectively. Based on the analyses, the V3 cultivar was the most potent radical scavenger, while V1 and V2 cultivars exhibited antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus in response to S provision. Our study emphasizes the critical role of S nutrition in plant growth, acclimation, and nutritional quality. The judicious-S application can be adopted as a promising antimicrobial prototype for medical applications.


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