In silico identification of genetic mutations conferring resistance to acetohydroxyacid synthase inhibitors: a case study of Kochia scoparia.
Mutations that confer herbicide resistance are a primary concern for herbicide-based chemical control of invasive plants and are often under-characterized structurally and functionally. As the outcome of selection pressure, resistance mutations usually result from repeated long-term applications of herbicides with the same mode of action and are discovered through extensive field trials. Here we used acetohydroxyacid synthase (AHAS) of Kochia scoparia (KsAHAS) as an example to demonstrate that, given the sequence of a target protein, the impact of genetic mutations on ligand binding could be evaluated and resistance mutations could be identified using a biophysics-based computational approach. Briefly, the 3D structures of wild-type (WT) and mutated KsAHAS-herbicide complexes were constructed by homology modeling, docking and molecular dynamics simulation. The resistance profile of two AHAS-inhibiting herbicides, tribenuron methyl and thifensulfuron methyl, was obtained by estimating their binding affinity with 29 KsAHAS (1 WT and 28 mutated) using 6 molecular mechanical (MM) and 18 hybrid quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical (QM/MM) methods in combination with three structure sampling strategies. By comparing predicted resistance with experimentally determined resistance in the 29 biotypes of K. scoparia field populations, we identified the best method (i.e., MM-PBSA with single structure) out of all tested methods for the herbicide-KsAHAS system, which exhibited the highest accuracy (up to 100%) in discerning mutations conferring resistance or susceptibility to the two AHAS inhibitors. Our results suggest that the in silico approach has the potential to be widely adopted for assessing mutation-endowed herbicide resistance on a case-by-case basis.