Quantitative trait loci (QTLs) E and M are major soybean alleles that confer resistance to leaf-chewing insects, and are particularly effective in combination. Flavonoids and/or isoflavonoids are classes of plant secondary metabolites that previous studies agree are the causative agents of resistance of these QTLs. However, all previous studies have compared soybean genotypes that are of dissimilar genetic backgrounds, leaving it questionable what metabolites are a result of the QTL rather than the genetic background. Here, we conducted a non-targeted mass spectrometry approach without liquid chromatography to identify differences in metabolite levels among QTLs E, M, and both (EM) that were introgressed into the background of the susceptible variety Benning. Our results found that E and M mainly confer low-level, global differences in distinct sets of metabolites. The isoflavonoid daidzein was the only metabolite that demonstrated major increases, specifically in insect-treated M and EM. Interestingly, M confers increased daidzein levels in response to insect, whereas E restores M’s depleted daidzein levels in the absence of insect. Since daidzein levels do not parallel levels of resistance, our data suggest a novel mechanism that the QTLs confer resistance to insects by mediating changes in hundreds of metabolites, which would be difficult for the insect to evolve tolerance. Collective global metabolite differences conferred by E and M might explain the increased resistance of EM.
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