Plant defence genes expressed in tobacco and yeast

Becker, John van Wyk (2002-03)

Thesis (MSc (Viticulture and Oenology. Wine Biotechnology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2002.


Pathogen devastation of food products has been the topic of extensive research efforts worldwide. Fungal infections are foremost amongst these pests, contributing not only to losses in product yield, but also significantly affecting the quality thereof. It is not surprising then that producers of these foodstuffs and their derived products continually strive towards the highest possible product quality. Therefore, it remains imperative that satisfactory methods are implemented to control these fungal pathogens. The current strategies are all hampered by drawbacks, and severe crop losses are still experienced. New technologies are being explored; one such technology is the genetic transformation of plant species. This method has enabled scientists to introduce foreign genes, with known functions and predictable outcomes, into plants. Genes identified to be involved in disease resistance have become the focus of numerous research efforts concerned with the improvement of the plant's innate defence response. This study aimed to enhance disease resistance to fungal pathogens by means of the genetic transformation of two genes previously shown to be involved in disease resistance. These genes encode polygalacturonase-inhibiting proteins (PGIPs) from Phaseolus vulgaris and resveratrol synthase from Vitis vinifera. PGIPs specifically inhibit the action of fungal polygalacturonases (PGs), which are enzymes responsible for the hydrolytic breakdown of plant cell walls. These enzymes were also found to be the first enzymes that are secreted by fungal pathogens during infection of the host plant. Additionally, PGIP-PG interaction results in the existence of molecules involved in the activation of plant defence responses. Resveratrol, the product of resveratrol synthase, exerts its antifungal action by destruction of the microbial cellular membranes. These mentioned genes were transformed alone, and in combination, into Nicotiana tabacum and the resultant transgenic lines were evaluated for enhanced disease resistance and for possible synergistic effects between the transgenes. Several independent transgenic lines were regenerated with genes integrated into the tobacco genome. Almost all the plants harbouring only pgip or vst1 genes also expressed these genes at a high frequency. Some non-expressing lines were identified from the transgenic plants that had integrated both genes, but several lines were obtained expressing both transgenes. Good correlations were observed between transgene product activity and enhanced resistance to the fungus Botrytis cinerea in an antifungal in planta assay. Lines showing the highest PGIP activity and resveratrollevels were more resistant to the pathogen, leading to disease resistance of up to 80% seven days after inoculation in comparison to an untransformed control. These lines maintained their strong inhibition, even three weeks post-inoculation, showing a complete halt in disease development and fungal growth. These results provide good indications of the efficacy of these transgenes in the upregulation of plant defence. However, the study will have to be expanded to include even more transgenic lines to elucidate the possible synergistic effects of these genes. In an additional pilot study, genes encoding for precursors and for the formation of resveratrol were introduced into the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The resultant recombinant yeast strains were evaluated for their ability to produce the phenolic substance, resveratrol. This compound has been implicated in beneficial aspects relating to human health, including positive effects on atherosclerosis and platelet aggregation as a direct result of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. Recombinant yeast strains were constructed that expressed genes coding for coenzyme A ligase and resveratrol synthase. These strains were shown to be able to produce the phenolic compound resveratrol from the precursors present in the yeast as well as from the products introduced with the transformation. The resveratrol was complexed with an added glucose moiety. These results are extremely positive, considering the possibility of manipulating wine yeasts to produce resveratrol during the wine fermentation, thereby adding to the health aspects of both red and white wine. This is the first report of the production of this compound by the introduction of genes necessary for its biosynthesis in a foreign host. This study has confirmed the importance of PGIPs and resveratrol in the effort to enhance disease resistance in plants through genetic transformation technology. It has also shown that the health benefits of resveratrol could be exploited more optimally in the wine industry, by producing wine yeasts with the ability to synthesise this important antioxidant.

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