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Plant Cell. 2011 Sep;23(9):3137-55. doi: 10.1105/tpc.111.088906. Epub 2011 Sep 20.

Nonessential plastid-encoded ribosomal proteins in tobacco: a developmental role for plastid translation and implications for reductive genome evolution.

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Max-Planck-Institut für Molekulare Pflanzenphysiologie, D-14476 Potsdam-Golm, Germany.


Plastid genomes of higher plants contain a conserved set of ribosomal protein genes. Although plastid translational activity is essential for cell survival in tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), individual plastid ribosomal proteins can be nonessential. Candidates for nonessential plastid ribosomal proteins are ribosomal proteins identified as nonessential in bacteria and those whose genes were lost from the highly reduced plastid genomes of nonphotosynthetic plastid-bearing lineages (parasitic plants, apicomplexan protozoa). Here we report the reverse genetic analysis of seven plastid-encoded ribosomal proteins that meet these criteria. We have introduced knockout alleles for the corresponding genes into the tobacco plastid genome. Five of the targeted genes (ribosomal protein of the large subunit22 [rpl22], rpl23, rpl32, ribosomal protein of the small subunit3 [rps3], and rps16) were shown to be essential even under heterotrophic conditions, despite their loss in at least some parasitic plastid-bearing lineages. This suggests that nonphotosynthetic plastids show elevated rates of gene transfer to the nuclear genome. Knockout of two ribosomal protein genes, rps15 and rpl36, yielded homoplasmic transplastomic mutants, thus indicating nonessentiality. Whereas Δrps15 plants showed only a mild phenotype, Δrpl36 plants were severely impaired in photosynthesis and growth and, moreover, displayed greatly altered leaf morphology. This finding provides strong genetic evidence that chloroplast translational activity influences leaf development, presumably via a retrograde signaling pathway.

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