Open Access

A dual isotopic approach using radioactive phosphorus and the isotopic composition of oxygen associated to phosphorus to understand plant reaction to a change in P nutrition

Plant Methods201713:75

https://doi.org/10.1186/s13007-017-0227-x

Received: 20 April 2017

Accepted: 17 September 2017

Published: 25 September 2017

Abstract

Background

Changing the phosphorus (P) nutrition leads to changes in plant metabolism. The aim of this study was to investigate how these changes are reflected in the distribution of 33P and the isotopic composition of oxygen associated to P (δ18OP) in different plant parts of soybean (Glycine max cv. Toliman). Two P pools were extracted sequentially with 0.3 M trichloroacetic acid (TCA P) and 10 M nitric acid (HNO3; residual P).

Results

The δ18OP of TCA P in the old leaves of the − P plants (23.8‰) significantly decreased compared to the + P plants (27.4‰). The 33P data point to an enhanced mobilisation of P from residual P in the old leaves of the − P plants compared to the + P plants.

Conclusions

Omitting P for 10 days lead to a translocation of P from source to sink organs in soybeans. This was accompanied by a significant lowering of the δ18OP of TCA P in the source organs due to the enzymatic hydrolysis of organic P. Combining 33P and δ18OP can provide useful insights in plant responses to P omission at an early stage.

Keywords

δ18OP of TCA P 33PPhosphorusRadioisotopesSoybeansStable isotopes

Background

Phosphorus (P) is an essential nutrient for plants. It is taken up by the roots as phosphate and is translocated to the leaves and other plant parts through the xylem and phloem [1, 2]. In plants with a high P status, a large proportion (85–95%) of phosphate in cells is stored in the vacuole (non-metabolic P), whereas only 5–15% are considered as metabolic P, i.e. P taking part in plant metabolism [3, 4]. When P supply becomes limiting for plant growth, P stored in the vacuole is mobilised and translocated from old leaves (source) to growing plant tissues (sinks) like developing leaves and fruits [5, 6]. Plant responses to a low P nutrition status also include replacement of phospholipids by sulfo- or galactolipids, the activation of acid phosphatase, a higher expression of high affinity P transporters, and a decrease in nucleic acid concentration [711].

The use of 32P and/or 33P can elucidate P translocation from developed to developing leaves in plants [1, 3, 12, 13]. Before P is translocated it needs to be mobilised, either from P stored in the vacuole or via enzymatic hydrolysis of organic P compounds. The stable isotope composition of oxygen associated to phosphorus (noted thereafter δ18OP) is altered by enzymatic processes and thus could provide information on these processes. Enzymes can exchange one to four oxygen (O) atoms bound to P with O of ambient water [1416]. The inorganic pyrophosphatase (inorganic PPase), an ubiquitous enzyme regulating the pyrophosphate level in cells, is responsible for a temperature dependent equilibrium between O in water and phosphate [1719]. Also, other acid anhydride hydrolases involved in the transport of nutrients across membranes, could lead to equilibrium between O in water and in phosphate [20]. Enzymes, which catalyse the hydrolysis of organic P compounds such as acid or alkaline phosphatase, release phosphate with a different δ18OP compared to the original organic P compound due to isotopic fractionation [21, 22]. Alkaline and acid phosphatases, 5′-nucleotidase, and deoxyribonuclease 1 preferentially incorporate 16O from water into phosphate, resulting in the release of phosphate depleted in 18O compared to the original organic P compound [16, 21, 22].

We previously investigated the 18O enrichment of trichloroacetic acid soluble reactive P (TCA P; mainly phosphate [23]) extracted from soybean leaves (Glycine max cv. Toliman) grown under P sufficient conditions in the glasshouse. We found that the δ18O of leaf water was the main control of δ18OP of TCA P in soybean leaves under our experimental set-up [23].

We assess here the effects of stopping the P supply in the nutrient solution on the δ18OP of TCA P in different plant parts of previously well-fed soybean plants. We hypothesise that stopping P supply will lead to lower δ18OP of TCA P in source organs resulting from an increasing phosphatase activity caused by the interruption in P supply. This is tested in a single experiment in which P fluxes between plant organs are measured with 33P tracing while the effect of phosphatase is analysed through its effect on the δ18OP of plant P. To our knowledge, this is the first time that such a dual isotopic approach is conducted to assess plant response to changing P nutritional status.

Methods

Experimental set up

Soybean (Glycine max cv. Toliman) was grown under controlled conditions in a glasshouse in hydroponic cultures. Soybean seeds were surface-sterilized as described by Kremer et al. [24] and germinated in sand (size 0.7–1.2 mm) saturated with ultrapure water (ddH2O). 8 days after seeding (DAS; stage V2, [25]), 250 plants were transferred into a hydroponic set up. 7 days later (15 DAS; stage V3), 88 soybean plants were transferred into eleven non-transparent plastics pots (size 300 mm × 200 mm × 220 mm) containing 8 L nutrient solution (eight plants per pot). From 8 to 15 DAS, the plants were supplied with a modified Hoagland nutrient solution containing 0.5 mM KH2PO4, 5 mM KNO3, 5 mM Ca(NO3)2, 2 mM MgSO4, 0.1 mM Fe chelate, 0.05 mM KCl, 0.025 mM H3BO3, 0.002 mM MnSO4, 0.002 mM ZnSO4, 0.0005 mM CuSO4, and 0.0005 mM Na2MoO4. The KH2PO4 used for the preparation of the nutrient solution had a δ18OP of 12.4‰ and the water in the nutrient solution had a δ18O of − 10.2‰. The nutrient solution was changed regularly to reduce microbial growth and ensure optimal growth conditions for the plants. The 88 soybean plants were distributed in 11 pots representing three treatments: control, + P, and − P plants. Three replicates were used for the control, while the + P and − P treatments were replicated 4 times, with eight plants per pot.

At 15 DAS, 10 mL of a stock solution was prepared containing 1 mL of carrier-free 33P-PO4 and 9 mL of nutrient solution. The control plants received 0.6 mL of this 33P-containing solution per pot (equivalent to 20 MBq per pot), while the + P (sufficient amount of P supplied throughout the experiment) and − P (no P supplied for 10 days) plants received 0.9 mL per pot (equivalent to 30 MBq per pot). The plants remained in the labelled nutrient solution for 8 days (23 DAS; stage V5). After this period the plants in three pots (referred to as “control”) were harvested and the remaining eight pots were divided into two groups (four pots per group). The + P plants received the non-labelled nutrient solution with 0.5 mM KH2PO4; while the − P plants received a P-free nutrient solution. Before the transfer of the plants to the new nutrient solution, the roots were washed twice with P-free nutrient solution to avoid any carry-over of 31P and 33P into the new nutrient solution. After 10 days (33 DAS; stage V7/8) the + P and − P plants were harvested. In the middle of this period (28 DAS) 2 L P-free nutrient solution was added to each pot of the − P plants while 2 L nutrient solution containing 0.5 mM KH2PO4 were added to each pot of the + P plants.

Relative air humidity in the glasshouse ranged between 44 and 61%, with a mean of 58%. The air temperature ranged between 17 and 23 °C, with a mean of 21 °C. The plants were illuminated with 35 klux for 16 h per day. Leaf temperature of the trifoliate leaves was measured at the time of the harvest using a laser thermometer (Messtechnik Schaffhausen GmbH, Switzerland). For all treatments, the leaf temperature ranged between 19 and 22 °C, in average 20 °C, for the old leaves and between 20 and 24 °C, with an average of 22 °C for the new leaves.

Harvest

All plants were harvested approximately at the same time of the day (ca. 11:00) and within 30 min, to reduce the effect of sampling time on the δ18OP of TCA P, which can be up to 7‰ [26].

The plants were separated into five parts: roots, stems, old, new, and senescent leaves. Middle veins of the old and new leaves are included in the plant part “stems”, as, like the stems, they contain water with the δ18O of the source water [27]. The part “old leaves” includes the trifoliate leaves, which were already fully developed when the control plants were harvested. The part “new leaves” includes trifoliate leaves, which were not fully developed when the control plants were harvested, and for the + P and − P plants, also those that developed after the harvest of the control plants. The plant samples were put at − 20 °C directly after sampling. The senescent unifoliate leaves were collected and dried at 45 °C for 2 days before milling to a fine powder (< 2 mm). The unifoliate leaves were only used to determine the recovery of 33P taken up by the plants from the nutrient solution and the distribution of 33P in the plants.

Extraction of plant material

Two different P pools were sequentially extracted from each plant part, yielding in total eight compartments. The first step of the sequential extraction with TCA is targeting mainly inorganic phosphate [28], but may also extract some labile organic P compounds (such as glucose-6-phosphate) that can be hydrolysed during the colorimetric essay [29]. For this reason, this fraction is referred to as TCA-soluble reactive P (TCA P). Two grams of frozen plant material were weighed into 60-mL plastic bottles and 40 mL of 0.3 M TCA were added. After homogenising with a Polytron® (Kinematica AG, Luzern, Switzerland), the plant material was extracted for 1 h at 4 °C. The extracts were vacuum filtered using GF/F (pore size 0.7 μm; Whatman Internal Ltd.) filters before further processing for δ18OP measurements.

The plant material remaining after the extraction with TCA was extracted with 10 M HNO3 following the protocol described by [30] and modified by [23]. The extraction with 10 M HNO3 targets stable organic P compounds, such as phospholipids and DNA, and is referred to as residual P. The material was transferred into 50-mL centrifuge tubes and 40 mL of 10 M HNO3 were added. The samples were put into a water bath at 50 °C and extracted overnight. On the following day, the extracts were transferred into 100-mL Erlenmeyer flasks, put on stirring plates and 0.3 M potassium permanganate (KMnO4) was added drop wise until a brownish precipitate formed. On the next day, 0.1 M sodium nitrite (NaNO2) was added until the brownish precipitate dissolved. The extracts were filtered through GF/F filters before further processing.

Additionally, total P was extracted from the senescent unifoliate leaves via ashing. 0.25 g of dried and milled plant powder was weighed into a porcelain crucible and ashed in an oven for 6 h at 550 °C. Three millilitres of 14.3 M HNO3 were added and the extract was diluted and filtered through a 0.2 μm filter before determining the P concentration.

The concentration of P in the 0.3 M TCA and 10 M HNO3 extracts and in the total P extract of the unifoliate leaves was determined colorimetrically as described by [31].

Measurement of the 33P activity

The activity of 33P in each plant extract and in the nutrient solutions was measured with a liquid scintillation counter (TRI-CARB 2500 TR, liquid scintillation analyser, Packard Instruments, USA). Half a millilitre of each extract was mixed with 5 mL of liquid scintillation counting cocktail and measured for ten minutes. Two types of liquid scintillation counting cocktails were used, Ultima Gold for the 0.3 M TCA extracts and the nutrient solutions and Ultima Gold AB for the 10 M HNO3 and total P extracts (Perkin Elmer, USA). All activities were corrected for the radioactive decay and calculated back to the start of the labelling period (15 DAS).

Purification of extracts and precipitation of silver phosphate for the δ18OP measurements

Purification of the 0.3 M TCA extracts and precipitation of silver phosphate (Ag3PO4) followed the protocol described by [32]. One millilitre of 17.8 M H2SO4 was added during the ammonium phospho-molybdate (APM) step to facilitate the precipitation of APM. The extraction with 10 M HNO3 is not suitable for the determination of the δ18OP.

Determination of δ18O of phosphate and water

The δ18O of water used for the nutrient solution was determined with the CO2 equilibration method [33]. For each sample, 0.2 mL were pipetted into a vacutainer, closed tightly, and flushed with a gas mixture of 0.3% CO2 in helium (He). After an equilibration time of 18 h at room temperature, the samples were measured with a gas bench device (Gas Bench II; Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., Waltham, MA, USA) coupled to an isotope ratio mass spectrometer (Delta V Plus; Thermo Fisher Scientific®). The system was calibrated with the international standards VSMOW (Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water; δ18O = 0‰), SLAP (Standard Light Antarctic Precipitation; δ18O = − 55.5‰ VSMOW) and GISP (Greenland Ice Sheet Precipitation; δ18O = − 24.8‰ VSMOW). The analytical error was lower than ± 0.06‰.

The Ag3PO4 samples were measured in triplicates by a thermal conversion elemental analyser (vario PYRO cube; Elementar, Germany) coupled to an isotope ratio mass spectrometer (IRMS; Isoprime, UK). Results were calibrated against an internal Ag3PO4 standard (Acros Organics, Geel, Belgium; δ18O = 14.2‰ VSMOW) and two benzoic acid standards distributed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna (IAEA 601: δ18O = 23.1‰ and IAEA 602: δ18O = 71.3‰ VSMOW) [34]. Each run included 82 Ag3PO4 samples, 16 samples of the Ag3PO4 standard, and eight samples of each benzoic acid standard. Analytical error calculated on replicate analyses of standards was lower than ± 0.4‰.

All oxygen isotope compositions are reported in the conventional delta notation with respect to VSMOW:
$$\updelta^{18} {\text{O}} = 1000*\left( {\frac{{R_{sample} }}{{R_{standard} }} - 1} \right),$$
(1)
where R is the ratio 18O/16O in the sample and standard, respectively.

Calculations and statistical analysis

33P uptake and recovery in the plants

The amount of 33P taken up by the plants during the experiment was calculated by subtracting the activity of 33P (MBq per pot) remaining in the nutrient solution before it was exchanged (23 DAS) from the activity of 33P (MBq per pot) in the fresh nutrient solution at the start of the labelling period (15 DAS).

The total activity of 33P in the plants per pot was calculated by Eq. 2:
$${}_{{}}^{33} P_{plant} = \mathop \sum \limits_{k = 1}^{4} \left( {TCA {}_{{}}^{33} P + residual {}_{{}}^{33} P} \right)_{k} + {}_{{}}^{33} P_{ashed}$$
(2)
where k are the different plant parts and TCA 33 P, residual 33 P, and 33 P ashed represents the total activity of 33P in the TCA P pool, residual P, and in the total P of the unifoliate leaves, respectively. The recovery of 33P in the plants was calculated by dividing the total activity of 33P in the plants per pot (Eq. 2) by the activity of 33P taken up by the plants during the labelling period.

Phosphorus derived from the labelling and non-labelling period

The amount of P taken up during the labelling period can be calculated using Eq. 3:
$$x = \frac{y}{{SA_{nut\;sol} }} ,$$
(3)
where x is the amount of P derived from the labelling period in mg per compartment and pot, y is the activity of 33P in the compartment in kBq per pot, and SA nut sol is the specific activity of the P in the nutrient solution, which was taken up during the labelling period in kBq mg−1 P.
The amount of P derived from other sources (that is, before and after the labelling period) in mg per compartment and pot can be calculated from:
$$z = P_{tot} - x,$$
(4)
where z is the amount of P derived from before and after the labelling period in mg per compartment and pot, P tot is the total amount of P in a compartment in mg per pot, and x is the amount of P derived from the labelling period in mg per compartment and pot.

Net gains and losses of phosphorus in the different compartments

The amount of P in the different compartments of the control plants was used as a baseline to calculate net gains and losses (turnover) of P in the different compartments of the − P and + P. The turnover of P derived from the labelling period in the different compartments in the − P and + P plants during the last 10 days of the experiment (23–33 DAS) were calculated using Eq. 5:
$$Turnover\;of\;P\;derived\;from\; the\;labelling\;period = x_{control} - x_{i} ,$$
(5)
where x control is the amount of P taken up during the labelling period (mg P per compartment and pot) in the control plants and x i is the amount of P taken up during the labelling period (mg P per compartment per pot) in the + P or − P plants. If the result is positive, the respective compartment is defined as sink for P derived from the labelling period (net gain), if the result is negative, the respective compartment is defined as source for P derived from the labelling period (net loss).
If a compartment was a sink or a source of P derived from the non-labelling period, was calculated using Eq. 6:
$$Turnover\;of\;P\;derived\;from\; the\; nonlabelling\;period = z_{control} - z_{i} ,$$
(6)
where z control is the amount of P taken up during the non-labelling period (mg P per compartment and pot; 0–15 DAS) in the control plants and z i is the amount of P taken up during the non-labelling period (mg P per compartment and pot; 0–15 and 23–33 DAS) in the + P or − P plants. If the result is positive, the respective compartment is defined as sink for P derived from the non-labelling period (net gain), if the result is negative, the respective compartment is defined as source for P derived from the non-labelling period (net loss).

Estimation of the leaf water δ18O

The leaf water δ18O was estimated based on data from a previous experiment where we looked at the daily changes of the leaf water δ18O and the δ18OP of TCA P of fully developed trifoliated soybean leaves [26]. A linear regression using the relative air humidity (rH) in % in the glasshouse and the leaf temperature (t leaf) in °C as independent variable and the leaf water δ18O as dependent variable gave the following equation:
$$Leaf\;water \;\updelta^{ 1 8} {\text{O}} = 14.72 - 0.17 \cdot rH + 0.12 \cdot t_{leaf} ,$$
(7)

Adjusted R2 = 0.55, p value < 0.001.

The equilibrium between oxygen in water and in phosphate was calculated using the rearranged equation by [17]:
$$\updelta^{18} {\text{O}}_{\text{P}} = - 0.17 \cdot t_{leaf} + 26.2 + leaf\;water\;\updelta{}_{{}}^{18} {\text{O}}$$
(8)

Statistical analysis

To determine the effect of each treatment, the means of the different parameters were compared by conducting a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) using the program R [35]. For the multiple comparisons of the means (+ P compared to − P, + P compared to control, and − P compared to control) a Tukey’s HSD test, with a significance level α of 0.05, was performed afterwards as post hoc test. To determine significant differences between the δ18OP of TCA P in different plant parts within the same treatment a one-way ANOVA with a subsequent Tukey’s HSD (α = 0.05) was performed as post hoc test. Pooled standard deviations were calculated for M d, total amount of P per compartment, P in each compartment derived from the labelling or non-labelling period, and the δ18OP of TCA P.

Results

Uptake of water, 31P, and 33P during the experiment

The total water uptake per pot during the experiment (15–23 DAS in case of the control and 15–33 DAS in case of the + P and − P plants) was 1 L for the control and 4 L for the + P and − P plants.

The net uptake of P during the experiment (15–23 DAS in case of the control; 15–33 DAS in case of the + P and − P plants) was 46 mg, 145 mg, and 43 mg as average per pot for the control, + P, and − P plants, respectively. The average uptake of 33P per pot was 8.5 MBq per pot, 11.4 MBq per pot, and 12.1 MBq per pot for the control, + P, and − P plants, respectively. 42, 39, and 41% of 33P added in the nutrient solution was taken up by the control, + P, and − P plants. A small amount of 33P was found in the nutrient solution of the + P and − P plants at 33 DAS (Table 1).
Table 1

Phosphorus content (mg P) and activity (MBq) in the nutrient solution at the beginning of the labelling period [8 L; 15 days after seeding (DAS)], remaining at the end of the labelling period (7 L; 23 DAS), in the new nutrient solution after the labelling period (8 L; 23 DAS), and at the end of the experiment (7 L; 33 DAS)

 

Start (15 DAS)

End of labelling (23 DAS)

New nutrient solution (23 DAS)

End of experiment (33 DAS)

33P (MBq)

31P (mg P)

33P (MBq)

31P (mg P)

33P (MBq)

31P (mg P)

33P (MBq)

31P (mg P)

Control

20

(0.3)

108

(3)

11.5

(1.6)

62

(7)

na

na

na

na

+ P

29.4

(1.3)

104

(4)

18.0

(1.7)

51

(6)

0

104a

(3)

0.17

(0.08)

43

(21)

− P

29.5

(0.7)

104

(3)

17.5

(1.0)

54

(2)

0

0a

0.04

(0.006)

7

(0.7)

Mean values with n = 3 for the control and n = 4 for the + P and − P. Values in brackets are the standard deviation

na not applicable

aAfter 5 days (at 28 DAS) 2 L nutrient solution was added to the pots of the + P treatment and 2 L P-free nutrient solution was added to the pots of the − P treatment

Biomass and phosphorus concentrations in the plants

The average dry mass (M d) of the plants per pot increased significantly from the control (22 g M d per pot) to the + P and − P plants (39 and 41 g M d per pot, respectively) (ANOVA; p value < 0.02). The difference in M d per pot between + P and − P plants was not significant. The M d of the old leaves did not change significantly between the control and the + P and − P plants (Table 2).
Table 2

Summary of the average dry mass (M d) for the different compartments and treatments

 

Dry mass (g per pot)

Roots

Stems

Old leaves

New leaves

Treatment

 Control

8.1a

6.5a

4.7ab

2.5a

 + P

16.7b

11.0b

4.8a

6.3b

 − P

14.3ab

13.3b

4.3b

8.7b

 Pooled SD

4.1

1.4

0.3

1.4

Source of variation (p value)

 Treatment

0.07

< 0.001

0.08

0.001

Values are means with n = 3 for the control and n = 4 for the + P and − P. Letters behind values indicate significant differences between the different treatment within the same plant parts based on a Tukey’s HSD test with α = 0.05. Pooled standard deviation (pooled SD)

The total amount of P in the control, + P, and − P plants was 67.2, 153.2, and 58.3 mg respectively. Although the total amount of P in the + P plants was about three times higher compared to the − P plants, we did not observe any visible signs of P limitation in case of the − P plants. The amount of P in the different compartments is shown in Table 3.
Table 3

Amount of P in the trichloroacetic acid-soluble reactive P (TCA P) and in the residual P pool derived from the labelling period [15–23 days after seeding (DAS)], from the non-labelling period, and the total amount of TCA P in each compartment

 

Labelling period

Non-labelling period

Sum (0-33 DAS)

mg P per compartment

Roots

Stems

Old leaves

New leaves

Roots

Stems

Old leaves

New leaves

Roots

Stems

Old leaves

New leaves

TCA P

 Control

17.6a

6.7a

12.5a

3.0a

6.9a

4.9a

5.8a

0.9a

24.5a

11.6a

18.3a

3.9a

 + P

10.9a

12.0a

9.3ab

6.3b

36.8b

26.9b

9.9a

17.2b

47.7b

38.9b

19.1a

23.5b

 − P

9.8a

9.5a

3.0b

5.2ab

4.0a

4.5a

0.7b

2.2a

13.8c

14.0a

3.7b

7.4a

 Pooled SD

4.6

3.3

3.7

1.4

10.6

11.1

4.3

13.5

3.9

4.2

4.0

4.2

Source of variation (p value)

 Treatment

ns

ns

0.03

0.05

< 0.001

< 0.001

< 0.001

< 0.001

< 0.001

< 0.001

0.001

< 0.001

Residual P

 Control

1.6a

0.9a

1.7a

1.0a

1.1a

0.9a

1.2a

0.5a

2.6a

1.8a

2.9a

1.5a

 + P

1.5a

2.5b

1.4a

2.5a

3.8b

5.1b

2.8a

4.4b

5.3b

7.7b

4.2a

6.8b

 − P

2.4a

4.7c

1.5a

6.9b

1.2a

0.6a

0.5a

1.6ab

3.6a

5.2b

2.0a

8.5b

 Pooled SD

0.6

0.3

0.2

0.5

0.9

0.9

1.9

3.0

1.4

1.0

1.4

2.1

Source of variation (p value)

 Treatment

ns

< 0.001

ns

< 0.001

0.006

< 0.001

ns

0.05

0.1

< 0.001

ns

0.006

In the case of the control, the non-labelling period includes the first 15 days (0–15 DAS). In the case of the + P and − P, the non-labelling period represents the time from 0 to 15 DAS and from 23 to 33 DAS. Letters behind values indicate significant differences between the treatments within the same plant part based on a Tukey’s HSD test with α = 0.05

We observed significant differences in the concentration of TCA P for all four parts between the + P and − P plants. The difference in the concentration of TCA P between the control and − P plants was also significant in the case of the roots and the old leaves (Fig. 1). Significant differences in the concentration of residual P were only observed in case of the stems.
Fig. 1

Phosphorus concentration (mg P per g dry mass) in the two different P pools [trichloroacetic acid soluble-reactive P (TCA P) and residual P] and four different plant parts for the control, + P, and − P plants. Error bars are ± SD with n = 3 for the control and n = 4 for the + P and − P. Significant differences between treatments within the same plant part are indicated by asterisks; Tukey’s HSD test with α = 0.05

Distribution of 33P in the different compartments

The total activity of 33P found in the plants per pot was 9.5, 12.4, and 11.9 MBq for the control, + P, and − P plants, respectively. Thus, around 100% of the 33P, which was taken up, was recovered in the plants. The proportional distribution of the total activity of 33P among the different compartments is shown in Fig. 2. The proportion of 33P in the TCA P was higher than in the residual P (Fig. 2). The highest proportion of 33P was found in the TCA P of the roots and old leaves in the case of the control and in the roots and stems in the case of the + P and − P plants (Fig. 2). The proportion of 33P in the residual P increased significantly from the control and + P plants to the − P plants (ANOVA, p value < 0.001; Fig. 2). Around 14% of the 33P was found in the total P of the unifoliate leaves (UL) in case of all three treatments.
Fig. 2

Proportion of 33P in the different plant compartments for the control, + P, and − P. 100% is equivalent to 9.5 MBq, 12.4 MBq, and 11.9 MBq in the case of the control, + P, and − P plants, respectively

Amount of phosphorus derived from the labelling period and the non-labelling period

Using Eqs. 3 and 4, the amounts of P derived from the labelling period and non-labelling period in mg P per compartment were calculated (Table 3).

Net gains and losses of P in the different compartments of the − P and + P plants for the period 23–33 DAS were calculated using Eqs. 5 and 6 and are shown in Fig. 3. The main sinks in the − P plants for the P derived from the labelling period was the residual P of the roots, stems, and new leaves and to a lesser degree also the TCA P pool of the stems and new leaves (Fig. 3). The main sources of P in the − P plants were the TCA and residual P in the old leaves and the roots from the labelling and non-labelling periods (Fig. 3). In the case of the + P plants, the higher proportion of P was derived from the period referred to as “non-labelling period”. The main sink for the P derived from the labelling period in the + P plants was the residual and TCA P of the new leaves and of the stems (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3

Net gains and losses of P in mg P in the different compartments of the − P (a, b) and + P (c, d) plants, for the labelling period (15–23 DAS; b, d) and the days after the labelling period (23–33 DAS; a, c). For clarity reasons, standard deviations are not shown. Red indicates net P losses; grey indicates net P gains

δ18OP of TCA P, leaf water δ18O and equilibrium

The δ18OP of TCA P extracted from the old and new leaves in all three treatments was more positive than the phosphate source (12.4‰; Table 4), whereas in the roots and stems it was like that of the phosphate source (Table 4). Significant differences were observed between the δ18OP of TCA P in the old leaves of the control, + P and − P plants and in the new leaves between the control and − P plants and between the + P and − P plants.
Table 4

δ18OP of trichloroacetic acid-soluble reactive P (TCA P) of the four different parts (roots, stems, old and new leaves) of the plants for the three different treatments (control, + P and − P)

 

δ18OP (‰)

Roots

Stems

Old leaves

New leaves

Treatments

 Control

12.0a, A

14.9a, B

29.8a, C

25.9a, D

 + P

11.5a, A

13.5a, B

27.4b, C

25.7a, D

 − P

12.0a, A

13.9a, B

23.8c, C

24.2b, C

 Pooled SD

0.7

1.1

0.9

0.7

Source of variation (p value)

 Treatment

ns

ns

< 0.001

0.02

Values are means with n = 3 for the control and n = 4 for the + P and − P plants. Small letters indicate significant differences between treatments within the same plant part; capital letters indicate significant differences between plant parts within the same treatment (Tukey’s HSD; α = 0.05). Pooled standard deviation (pooled SD)

ns not significant

Based on Eq. 7 the estimated leaf water δ18O at a relative air humidity of 58% is between 7.3 and 7.7‰ in case of the old leaves (leaf temperature range 19–22 °C) and between 7.4 and 7.9‰ in case of the new leaves (leaf temperature 20–24 °C). Using these values and the measured leaf temperatures, equilibrium calculated with Eq. 8 is between 29.7 and 30.6‰ for the old leaves and between 29.6 and 30.7‰ for the new leaves. The water δ18O in roots and stems is usually close to the source water δ18O (− 10.2‰ in this study). Thus, using a temperature range of 18–22 °C, the equilibrium for stems and roots is between 12.3 and 12.9‰.

Discussion

Omitting P in the nutrient solution did not affect the dry mass of our soybean plants and − P plants did not show visible signs of P limitation like darker leaves or stunted growth. This is most likely due to the high (0.5 mM P) amount of P supplied in the nutrient solution and the short duration of the P omission (10 days). Indeed, Fredeen et al. [36] observed visible signs of P limitation in soybeans grown in low P (0.01 mM P) nutrient solution from the beginning of the experiment only after 10 days. Nevertheless, we observed changes in the distribution of P in the different plant parts and P pools, which indicates a change in plant metabolism.

Plant water δ18O and the δ18OP of TCA P

The δ18OP of TCA P of the old leaves of the control plants and of the stems and roots in general were relatively close to the calculated equilibrium with the plant water [Table 3; 29.7–30.6‰ (equilibrium range old leaves), 12.3–12.9‰ (equilibrium range stems and roots)]. Differences between calculated equilibrium and measured δ18OP of TCA P values are not caused by the leaf water δ18O, even though the equilibrium values are calculated using several assumptions. The + P and − P plants were harvested within half an hour and thus the leaf water δ18O should not vary greatly [26]. Furthermore, the variability of the δ18OP of TCA P among the four replicates per treatment was low, indicating that the sampling time (< 30 min) did not affect the δ18OP of TCA P. In addition, we consider that transpiration, the main driver behind changes in the leaf water δ18O, of the + P and − P plants was the same, as + P and − P plants did not differ in their water uptake and biomass. Based on Eq. 8 the difference in leaf water δ18O between old and new leaves would be rather small and we thus assume that leaf water δ18O values are not the cause for lower δ18OP of TCA P values of the new leaves compared to the old leaves.

Changes in the δ18OP of TCA P and the distribution of 33P

The amount of P and distribution of 33P within the plants indicate that P was mobilised and translocated between different plant parts in the − P and + P soybean plants in our study (Table 3 and Fig. 3). This is not surprising as P is continuously circulated between plant parts even when plants are not P limited as shown by [37]. In line with this, the translocated P, derived from the labelling period was mainly found in the TCA P of the new leaves and stems (Fig. 3). In case of the − P plants, the omission of P resulted in an enhanced re-mobilisation of P from residual P in the old leaves and translocation of P from the TCA P in the old leaves and roots to the new leaves and stems (TCA and residual P; Fig. 3). Mobilisation and translocation of P is a common response of plants to the omission of P and was observed for a wide range of plant species (for example soybean, mashbean and mungbean [38], citrus trees [39], beans [40], Brachiaria [41], and peas [42]). Except for the residual P in the old leaves, P derived from the labelling period, was translocated and used for the synthesis of residual P in the roots, stems, and new leaves. There was a small efflux of P, which had been taken up during the labelling period, to the nutrient solution in the last 10 days of the experiment for both + P and − P plants (Table 1). An increased efflux of P has been observed for plants grown at high P levels [43]. This could help the plant to maintain P homeostasis and possibly explain the efflux in case of the + P plants. The efflux of 33P could also have been caused by senescent root tissue entering the nutrient solution, which was most likely the case for the − P plants.

Re-mobilisation of residual P, i.e. organic P, as observed for example the old leaves of the − P plants, involves hydrolysing enzymes such as acid phosphatase [4446]. A discrimination factor of − 10‰ was reported for acid phosphatase, leading to a depletion in 18O of the released phosphate [22]. To estimate the δ18O of phosphate released by hydrolysing enzymes, we would need to know the δ18O of residual P (organic compounds) inside the plants. At present, we can only approximate this value by considering that organic compounds in a cell have the same δ18OP as phosphate inside the cell [47]. If we assume a δ18OP of residual P of 27.4‰ (δ18OP of TCA P in the old leaves of the + P plants) and a leaf water δ18O values between 7.2 and 7.5‰, phosphate released due the hydrolysis of residual P by acid phosphatase would have a δ18OP value around 20‰. The release of such light phosphate could explain our observed differences in the δ18OP of TCA P of + P and − P plants as shown with the following calculations and considerations.

We observed a net P loss of 0.9 mg P from residual P in the old leaves of the − P plants during the last 10 days of the experiment (Fig. 3). The total amount of TCA P in the old leaves was 3.7 mg (Table 3). Thus, P mobilised from residual P in the old leaves could potentially make up 25% of the TCA P in the old leaves of the − P plants. Using a simple mass balance, the δ18OP of TCA P in the old leaves of the − P plants would be around 25.5‰. Such a mixing could also explain the lower δ18OP of TCA P in the new leaves of the − P plants compared to the + P plants. Light phosphate produced by phosphatases in developed leaves could be transported to developing leaves, diluting the TCA P pool and leading to lower δ18OP values.

As phosphate is transported from the old leaves to the new leaves via the stems, such a mixing could also explain the slightly, but not significantly, lower δ18OP of TCA P values of the stems in case of the + P and − P plants compared to the control plants. Doing a similar calculation for the stems of the − P plants as for the old leaves of the − P plants, 18% of the TCA P in the stems would be P originating from the hydrolysis of residual P based on δ18OP values and by 17% based on Fig. 3 and Table 3.

The stems of the + P plants present a more complicated case, since P continues to be taken up from the nutrient solution. Phosphorus in the stems increased by 70% (Fig. 3 and Table 3). Using the δ18OP of TCA P, only 7% would originated from P released by hydrolysis, whereas 63% would be P taken up from the nutrient solution. 7% of the amount of TCA P in the stems is 2.7 mg and are very close to the amount of residual P mobilised from the old leaves (3.3 mg). It is possible that changes of the δ18OP of TCA P in the stems of the + P and − P plants compared to the control plants reflect a mixing of different phosphate sources.

Translocation of P from the TCA P was also observed in case of the roots (+ P and − P plants; Fig. 3), but contrary to the δ18OP of TCA P in the old leaves, the δ18OP of TCA P in the roots did not change from the + P to the − P plants. Unlike in the old leaves, no net loss of P from the residual P in the roots during the last 10 days of the experiment was observed. Thus, contribution of phosphate released from residual P by hydrolysing enzymes to the TCA P pool in the roots was negligible. In the case of the + P plants also the high P influx from the nutrient solution and the high amount of TCA P in the roots might have masked any contribution of P with a lighter δ18OP value.

The δ18OP of TCA P in the roots, as well as in the stems of the − P plants was close to the calculated equilibrium as well as to the δ18OP of the P source in the nutrient solution (12.4‰). However, the − P plants did not receive any P for the last 10 days of the experiment and most of the TCA P in the roots was translocated to other compartments (Fig. 3). This strongly suggests that in the roots and stems, the δ18OP signature of the P source is reset by O exchange with water mediated by inorganic PPase and other acid anhydride hydrolases [18, 20]. Acid anhydride hydrolases are also present in stems and roots [48], as they are important for loading and unloading of the xylem and phloem in the roots and stem [4952].

Conclusions

By using a dual isotopic approach (33P and the δ18OP) we simultaneously investigated P translocation and the enzymatic release of P due to a change in P nutrition. We showed that stopping P supply for 10 days lead to a translocation of P from source organs, mainly from residual P, to sink organs of up to 25%. Furthermore, the δ18OP of TCA P in source organs was significantly lower compared to sink organs due to the enzymatic hydrolysis of organic P. Through further studies with different plant species, the δ18OP can become a useful tool to investigate early responses of plants to P limitation—in field and laboratory studies—before any visible signs of P limitation are observed. This requires also that more fractionation factors associated with enzymes involved in P mobilisation and translocation in plants are characterised, as well as a method to determine the δ18OP of organic P in plants.

Abbreviations

ANOVA: 

analysis of variance

APM: 

ammonium phospho-molybdate

DAS: 

days after seeding

ddH2O: 

ultra-pure water

δ18O: 

isotopic composition of oxygen

δ18OP

isotopic composition of oxygen associated to phosphorus

GB: 

gas bench

GISP: 

Greenland ice sheet precipitation

He: 

helium

IAEA: 

International Atomic Energy Agency

IRMS: 

isotope ratio mass spectrometer

M d

dry mass

O: 

oxygen

P: 

phosphorus

− P: 

no P supplied for 10 days

+ P: 

sufficient amount of P supplied throughout the experiment

PPase: 

pyrophosphatase

33P-PO4

33P labelled phosphate

Ptot

total P

R: 

isotopic ratio of 18O to 16O

Residual P: 

P extracted by 10 M HNO3 after extraction with TCA

Residual 33P: 

activity of 33P in the residual P

rH: 

relative humidity

SA: 

specific activity

SAnut sol

specific activity in the nutrient solution

SLAP: 

standard light Antarctic precipitation

TCA: 

trichloroacetic acid

TCA P: 

trichloroacetic acid soluble reactive phosphorus

TCA 33P: 

activity of 33P in TCA P

TC/EA: 

thermal conversion elemental analyser

Tleaf

leaf temperature

UL: 

unifoliate leaves

VSMOW: 

Vienna standard mean ocean water

x: 

amount of P derived from the labelling period

xcontrol

amount of P taken up during the labelling period in the control plants

xi

amount of P taken up during the labelling period in the + P or − P plants

y: 

activity of 33P in a certain compartment

z: 

amount of P derived from before and after the labelling period

zcontrol

amount of P derived from before the labelling period in the control plants

zi

amount of P derived from before and after labelling period in the + P or − P plants

Declarations

Authors’ contributions

VP conducted the research and analysed the data. VP, FT, SMB, and EF were involved in the planning of the experiment. All authors contributed to the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the research commission of the ETH Zurich for funding this project (Grant Number: ETH-02_10-2) and Delley seeds and plants Ltd (Delley, Switzerland) for providing the soybean seeds. We would also like to thank B. Aciksöz and L. Schönholzer with their help during the experiment. We thank an anonymous reviewer for the helpful comments.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Availability of data and materials

Not applicable.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Ethics approval and consent to participate

Not applicable.

Funding

Research commission ETH Zurich, Grant Number ETH-02_10-2.

Publisher’s Note

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Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zurich
(2)
Sustainable Agriculture Sciences, Rothamsted Research
(3)
Department of Earth Sciences, ETH Zurich

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