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Plant Physiol. 2001 Dec;127(4):1836-44.

Overexpression of malate dehydrogenase in transgenic alfalfa enhances organic acid synthesis and confers tolerance to aluminum.

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  • 1Department of Plant Pathology, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA.


Al toxicity is a severe impediment to production of many crops in acid soil. Toxicity can be reduced through lime application to raise soil pH, however this amendment does not remedy subsoil acidity, and liming may not always be practical or cost-effective. Addition of organic acids to plant nutrient solutions alleviates phytotoxic Al effects, presumably by chelating Al and rendering it less toxic. In an effort to increase organic acid secretion and thereby enhance Al tolerance in alfalfa (Medicago sativa), we produced transgenic plants using nodule-enhanced forms of malate dehydrogenase and phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase cDNAs under the control of the constitutive cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter. We report that a 1.6-fold increase in malate dehydrogenase enzyme specific activity in root tips of selected transgenic alfalfa led to a 4.2-fold increase in root concentration as well as a 7.1-fold increase in root exudation of citrate, oxalate, malate, succinate, and acetate compared with untransformed control alfalfa plants. Overexpression of phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase enzyme specific activity in transgenic alfalfa did not result in increased root exudation of organic acids. The degree of Al tolerance by transformed plants in hydroponic solutions and in naturally acid soil corresponded with their patterns of organic acid exudation and supports the concept that enhancing organic acid synthesis in plants may be an effective strategy to cope with soil acidity and Al toxicity.

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