Site-directed genotype screening for elimination of antinutritional saponins in quinoa seeds identifies TSARL1 as a master controller of saponin biosynthesis selectively in seeds

Climate change may result in a drier climate and increased salinization, threatening agricultural productivity worldwide. Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) produces highly nutritious seeds and tolerates abiotic stresses such as drought and high salinity, making it a promising future food source. However, the presence of antinutritional saponins in their seeds is an undesirable trait. We mapped genes controlling seed saponin content to a genomic region that includes TSARL1. We isolated desired genetic variation in this gene by producing a large mutant library of a commercial quinoa cultivar and screening the library for specific nucleotide substitutions using droplet digital PCR. We were able to rapidly isolate two independent tsarl1 mutants, which retained saponins in the leaves and roots for defence, but saponins were undetectable in the seed coat. We further could show that TSARL1 specifically controls seed saponin biosynthesis in the committed step after 2,3-oxidosqualene. Our work provides new important knowledge on the function of TSARL1 and represents a breakthrough for quinoa breeding.