Background: Anthocyanins are produced by plants in response to diverse stresses. Mutants that block the anthocyanin biosynthetic pathway (ABP) at various steps can easily be compared across numerous abiotic stresses. Hypothesis: Anthocyanins or their precursors are required for stress tolerance. Thus, ABP loss-of-function mutants should have proportionately lower fitness than wildtype plants under stress, compared with benign conditions. In contrast, a decrease in maximal vigour - the general capacity for growth and fecundity - should be most pronounced under benign conditions that allow luxuriant growth by the most vigorous genotypes. Tests: Determine whether, under stressful conditions, ABP loss-of-function mutants have relatively lower fitness than wildtype plants. Also, test for reduced maximal vigour by determining whether ABP mutants have comparatively decreased fitness under optimal ('benign') growing conditions. Organism: Arabidopsis thaliana loss-of-function mutants (representing all steps in the ABP), as well as wildtype plants, in two genetic backgrounds. Methods: We grew plants under near-optimal conditions and five stress treatments (UV-B, drought, cold, low Ca:Mg, high Ni). We estimated relative fitness as an individual's lifetime fertility, relative to the mean wildtype fertility in a given treatment. Results: Stress treatments significantly reduced lifetime fertility of wildtype and mutant lines. Wildtypes outperformed anthocyanin-deficient mutants under benign conditions, but as the stress increased, the difference between wildtype and mutant fitness diminished. Fitness did not increase with a mutation's sequential position in the ABP, nor was there an effect of the ability to produce flavonols on fertility. Conclusions: Mutations in the ABP did not reduce stress tolerance. Rather, the loss of ABP function reduced maximal vigour, most evidently in near-optimal growth conditions. © 2010 Eric J. von Wettberg.
von Wettberg EJ, Stanton ML, Whittall JB. How anthocyanin mutants respond to stress: the need to distinguish between stress tolerance and maximal vigour.