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Plant Physiol. 2002 Apr;128(4):1282-90.

Constitutive expression of the beta-ketothiolase gene in transgenic plants. A major obstacle for obtaining polyhydroxybutyrate-producing plants.

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  • 1Max-Planck-Institut für Molekulare Pflanzenphysiologie, Am Mühlenberg 1, Haus 4, 14476 Golm, Germany.


Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) is a member of a class of thermoelastic polymers called polyhydroxyalkanoates that serve many bacteria as intracellular storage molecules for carbon and energy. Transgenic plants provide a potential means of producing this polymer cost-effectively. To date, however, few reports of the successful production of this polymer have been published, with the exception of work with transgenic Arabidopsis. Using a variety of chimeric constructs, we have determined that the constitutive, chloroplast-localized expression of one of the genes involved in PHB production-the beta-ketothiolase (phbA) gene-is detrimental to the efficient production of transgenic PHB. The alternate use of either inducible or somatically activated promoters allowed the construction of transgenic PHB-producing potato (Solanum tuberosum) and tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) plants, although the amount of PHB formed was still rather low. Taking advantage of an inducible promoter, the maximal amount of PHB produced in transgenic potato was 0.09 mg g(-1) dry weight. In transgenic tobacco using a somatically activated promoter, up to 3.2 mg g(-1) dry weight was accumulated. In Arabidopsis, the formation of high levels of PHB had previously been shown to be accompanied by severe negative effects on growth and development of the plant. Phasins are proteins known from PHB-producing bacteria speculated to serve as protectants against the highly hydrophobic surface of the PHB granules in the bacterial intracellular milieu. Co-expression of the phasin gene in parallel with the PHB synthesis genes, however, did not lead to reduced symptom development.

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