The plastid genome of higher plants is relatively small, 120–230-kb in size, and present in up to 10,000 copies per cell. Standard protocols for the introduction of transforming DNA employ biolistic DNA delivery or polyethylene glycol treatment. Genetically stable, transgenic plants are obtained by modification of the plastid genome by homologous recombination, followed by selection for the transformed genome copy by the expression of marker genes that protect the cells from selective agents. Commonly used selective agents are antibiotics, including spectinomycin, streptomycin, kanamycin and chloramphenicol. Selection for resistance to amino acid analogues has also been successful. The types of plastid genome manipulations include gene deletion, gene insertion, and gene replacement, facilitated by specially designed transformation vectors. Methods are also available for post-transformation removal of marker genes. The model species for plastid genetic manipulation is Nicotiana tabacum, in which most protocols have been tested. Plastid transformation is also available in several solanaceous crops (tomato, potato, eggplant) and ornamental species (petunia, Nicotianasylvestris). Significant progress has been made with Brasssicaceae including cabbage, oilseed rape and Arabidopsis. Recent additions to the crops in which plastid transformation is reproducibly obtained are lettuce, soybean and sugar beet. The monocots are a taxonomic group recalcitrant to plastid transformation; initial inroads have been made only in rice.
We report here the isolation of spectinomycin-resistant mutants in cultured cells of Medicago sativa line RegenSY-T2. Spectinomycin induces bleaching of cultured alfalfa cells due to inhibition of protein synthesis on the prokaryotic type 70S plastid ribosomes. Spontaneous mutants resistant to spectinomycin bleaching were identified by their ability to form green shoots on plant regeneration medium containing selective spectinomycin concentrations in the range of 25-50 mg/l. Sequencing of the plastid rrn16 gene revealed that spectinomycin resistance is due to mutations in a conserved stem structure of the 16S rRNA. Resistant plants transferred to the greenhouse developed normally and produced spectinomycin-resistant seed progeny. In light of their absence in soybean, a related leguminous plant, the isolation of spectinomycin-resistant mutants in M. sativa was unexpected. The new mutations are useful for the study of plastid inheritance, as demonstrated by detection of predominantly paternal plastid inheritance in the RegenSY-T2 x Szapko57 cross, and can be used as selective markers in plastid transformation vectors to obtain cisgenic plants.
Plastids and mitochondria, the DNA-containing cytoplasmic organelles, are maternally inherited in the majority of angiosperm species. Even in plants with strict maternal inheritance, exceptional paternal transmission of plastids has been observed. Our objective was to detect rare leakage of plastids via pollen in Nicotiana sylvestris and to determine if pollen transmission of plastids results in co-transmission of paternal mitochondria. As father plants, we used N. sylvestris plants with transgenic, selectable plastids and wild-type mitochondria. As mother plants, we used N. sylvestris plants with Nicotiana undulata cytoplasm, including the CMS-92 mitochondria that cause cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) by homeotic transformation of the stamens. We report here exceptional paternal plastid DNA in approximately 0.002% of N. sylvestris seedlings. However, we did not detect paternal mitochondrial DNA in any of the six plastid-transmission lines, suggesting independent transmission of the cytoplasmic organelles via pollen. When we used fertile N. sylvestris as mothers, we obtained eight fertile plastid transmission lines, which did not transmit their plastids via pollen at higher frequencies than their fathers. We discuss the implications for transgene containment and plant evolutionary histories inferred from cytoplasmic phylogenies.