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Plant J. 2014 Feb;77(3):487-95. doi: 10.1111/tpj.12397. Epub 2014 Jan 16.

Direct visualization of Agrobacterium-delivered VirE2 in recipient cells.

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Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, Singapore, 117543, Singapore.


Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a natural genetic engineer widely used to deliver DNA into various recipients, including plant, yeast and fungal cells. The bacterium can transfer single-stranded DNA molecules (T-DNAs) and bacterial virulence proteins, including VirE2. However, neither the DNA nor the protein molecules have ever been directly visualized after the delivery. In this report, we adopted a split-GFP approach: the small GFP fragment (GFP11) was inserted into VirE2 at a permissive site to create the VirE2-GFP11 fusion, which was expressed in A. tumefaciens; and the large fragment (GFP1-10) was expressed in recipient cells. Upon delivery of VirE2-GFP11 into the recipient cells, GFP fluorescence signals were visualized. VirE2-GFP11 was functional like VirE2; the GFP fusion movement could indicate the trafficking of Agrobacterium-delivered VirE2. As the natural host, all plant cells seen under a microscope received the VirE2 protein in a leaf-infiltration assay; most of VirE2 moved at a speed of 1.3-3.1 μm sec⁻¹ in a nearly linear direction, suggesting an active trafficking process. Inside plant cells, VirE2-GFP formed filamentous structures of different lengths, even in the absence of T-DNA. As a non-natural host recipient, 51% of yeast cells received VirE2, which did not move inside yeast. All plant cells seen under a microscope transiently expressed the Agrobacterium-delivered transgene, but only 0.2% yeast cells expressed the transgene. This indicates that Agrobacterium is a more efficient vector for protein delivery than T-DNA transformation for a non-natural host recipient: VirE2 trafficking is a limiting factor for the genetic transformation of a non-natural host recipient. The split-GFP approach could enable the real-time visualization of VirE2 trafficking inside recipient cells.


Agrobacterium; Nicotiana benthamiana; Saccharomyces cerevisiae; T-DNA; VirE2; protein delivery; technical advance; visualization

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