Successful manipulation of the plastid genome (ptDNA) has been carried out so far only in tissue-culture cells, a limitation that prevents plastid transformation being applied in major agronomic crops. Our objective is to develop a tissue-culture independent protocol that enables manipulation of plastid genomes directly in plants to yield genetically stable seed progeny. We report that in planta excision of a plastid aurea bar gene (bar(au) ) is detectable in greenhouse-grown plants by restoration of the green pigmentation in tobacco leaves. The P1 phage Cre or PhiC31 phage Int site-specific recombinase was delivered on the Agrobacterium T-DNA injected at the axillary bud site, resulting in the excision of the target-site flanked marker gene. Differentiation of new apical meristems was forced by decapitating the plants above the injection site. The new shoot apex that differentiated at the injection site contained bar(au)-free plastids in 30-40% of the injected plants, of which 7% transmitted the bar(au)-free plastids to the seed progeny. The success of obtaining seed with bar(au)-free plastids depended on repeatedly forcing shoot development from axillary buds, a process that was guided by the size and position of green sectors in the leaves. The success of in planta plastid marker excision proved that manipulation of the plastid genomes is feasible within an intact plant. Extension of the protocol to in planta plastid transformation depends on the development of new protocols for the delivery of transforming DNA encoding visual markers.
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.