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Plant J. 1994 Nov;6(5):749-58.

Production of the Escherichia coli betaine-aldehyde dehydrogenase, an enzyme required for the synthesis of the osmoprotectant glycine betaine, in transgenic plants.

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Department of Molecular Genetics, Uppsala Genetic Center, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.


In several organisms osmotic stress tolerance is mediated by the accumulation of the osmoprotective compound glycine betaine. With the ambition to transfer the betaine biosynthetic pathway into plants not capable of synthesizing this osmoprotectant, the Escherichia coli gene betB encoding the second enzyme in the pathway, betaine-aldehyde dehydrogenase was introduced into Nicotiana tabacum. The betB structural gene was fused to the promoter of ats1a, a gene coding for the small subunit of Rubisco in Arabidopsis thaliana. Two types of constructs were made, either encoding the N-terminal transit peptide for chloroplast targeting or without the targeting signal for cytoplasmic localization of the BetB polypeptide. Analysis of transgenic N. tabacum plants harboring these constructs showed that in both cases the transgenes were expressed. Northern analysis of the plants demonstrated the accumulation of betB-related mRNA of the correct size. The production and processing of the corresponding polypeptides could be demonstrated by immunoblotting using polyclonal antisera raised against the BetB polypeptide. The transit peptide encoded by ats1a was able to direct BetB to the chloroplast, as suggested by the presence of the correctly processed BetB polypeptide in the chloroplast fraction. High betaine-aldehyde dehydrogenase activity was detected in transgenic plants, both in those where the chimeric gene product was targeted to the chloroplast and those where it remained in the cytoplasm. The transgenic tobacco acquired resistance to the toxic intermediate, betaine aldehyde, in the betaine biosynthetic pathway indicating that the bacterial enzyme is biologically active in its new host. Furthermore, these transgenic plants were able to convert exogenously supplied betaine aldehyde efficiently to glycine betaine.

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