, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 132-141

Expression of giant silkmoth cecropin B genes in tobacco

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Cecropin B is a small antibacterial peptide from the giant silkmothHyalophora cecropia. To reveal the potential of this peptide for engineering bacterial disease resistance into crops, several cecropin B gene constructs were made either for expression in the cytosol or for secretion. All constructs were cloned in a plant expression vector and introduced in tobacco viaAgrobacterium tumefaciens. A cDNA-derived cecropin B gene construct lacking the amino-terminal signal peptide was poorly expressed in transgenic plants at the mRNA level, whereas plants harbouring a full-length cDNA-derived construct containing the insect signal peptide, showed increased cecropin B-mRNA levels. Highest expression was found in plants harbouring a construct with a plant-gene-derived signal peptide. In none of the transgenic plants could the cecropin B peptide be detected. This is most likely caused by breakdown of the peptide by plant endogenous proteases, since a chemically synthesized cecropin B peptide was degraded within seconds in various plant cell extracts. This degradation could be prevented by the addition of specific protease inhibitors and by boiling the extract prior to adding the peptide. In addition, anionic detergents, in contrast to cationic, zwitter-ionic or non-ionic detergents, could prevent this degradation. Nevertheless, transgenic tobacco plants were evaluated for resistance toPseudomonas solanacearum, the causal agent of bacterial wilt of many crops, andP. syringae pv.tabaci, the causal agent of bacterial wildfire, which are highly susceptible to cecropin Bin vitro. No resistance was found. These experiments indicate that introduction and expression of cecropin B genes in tobacco does not result in detectable cecropin B protein levels and resistance to bacterial infections, most likely due to degradation of the protein by endogenous proteases.