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Plant Physiol. 2013 Jan;161(1):397-407. doi: 10.1104/pp.112.209619. Epub 2012 Nov 19.

Metabolic engineering of tomato fruit organic acid content guided by biochemical analysis of an introgression line.

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Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3RB, United Kingdom.


Organic acid content is regarded as one of the most important quality traits of fresh tomato (Solanum lycopersicum). However, the complexity of carboxylic acid metabolism and storage means that it is difficult to predict the best way to engineer altered carboxylic acid levels. Here, we used a biochemical analysis of a tomato introgression line with increased levels of fruit citrate and malate at breaker stage to identify a metabolic engineering target that was subsequently tested in transgenic plants. Increased carboxylic acid levels in introgression line 2-5 were not accompanied by changes in the pattern of carbohydrate oxidation by pericarp discs or the catalytic capacity of tricarboxylic acid cycle enzymes measured in isolated mitochondria. However, there was a significant decrease in the maximum catalytic activity of aconitase in total tissue extracts, suggesting that a cytosolic isoform of aconitase was affected. To test the role of cytosolic aconitase in controlling fruit citrate levels, we analyzed fruit of transgenic lines expressing an antisense construct against SlAco3b, one of the two tomato genes encoding aconitase. A green fluorescent protein fusion of SlAco3b was dual targeted to cytosol and mitochondria, while the other aconitase, SlAco3a, was exclusively mitochondrial when transiently expressed in tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) leaves. Both aconitase transcripts were decreased in fruit from transgenic lines, and aconitase activity was reduced by about 30% in the transgenic lines. Other measured enzymes of carboxylic acid metabolism were not significantly altered. Both citrate and malate levels were increased in ripe fruit of the transgenic plants, and as a consequence, total carboxylic acid content was increased by 50% at maturity.

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