Plant Cell Reports

, Volume 26, Issue 7, pp 1025–1033

Stable transformation and long-term maintenance of transgenic Taxus cell suspension cultures


    • Institute of Biological ChemistryWashington State University
  • Lea Wherland
    • Institute of Biological ChemistryWashington State University
  • Rodney B. Croteau
    • Institute of Biological ChemistryWashington State University
Genetic Transformation and Hybridization

DOI: 10.1007/s00299-007-0323-x

Cite this article as:
Ketchum, R.E.B., Wherland, L. & Croteau, R.B. Plant Cell Rep (2007) 26: 1025. doi:10.1007/s00299-007-0323-x


A cell line of Taxus cuspidata has been transformed with wild-type Agrobacterium rhizogenes ATCC strain 15834 containing binary vector pCAMBIA1301 and, separately, with A. tumefaciens strain EHA105 containing binary vector pCAMBIA1305.2. Additionally, a cell line of T. chinensis has been transformed with wild-type A. rhizogenes ATCC strain 25818 containing binary vector pCAMBIA1301. The two transgenic T. cuspidata cell lines have been maintained in culture for more than 20 months, and the transgenic T. chinensis cell line for more than 9 months, with no loss of reporter gene expression or antibiotic resistance. The introduced genes had no discernable effect on growth or Taxol production in the transgenic cell lines when compared to the parent control. The methods for transforming non-embryogenic Taxus suspension cultures are described.


TaxusTaxolPaclitaxelAgrobacteriumTransformationCell suspension culture







Cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter


High performance liquid chromatography coupled mass spectroscopy


Taxol (generic name paclitaxel) is arguably the most important anticancer agent to have been developed in the last 20 years, and the importance of this drug in the treatment of various types of cancers has been well documented (Long 1994; Holmes 1996). More recently, paclitaxel has shown promising results in drug-eluting coronary artery stents used in the treatment of diseased vasculature (Gruchalla and Nawarskas 2006). While the original source of Taxol, the bark of the Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia), limited its availability, recent means of production based upon extraction of the drug or its immediate precursors from cell culture or leaf tissue have helped to address the supply problem (see reviews by Patel 1998; Tabata 2004). However, because total synthesis of Taxol is not cost effective, isolation of the drug and its semisynthetic precursor 10-deacetylbaccatin III continue to rely on biological sources. The low abundance of Taxol and 10-deacetylbaccatin III in cell cultures and leaf tissue, and the complex purification procedures required, are responsible for the relatively high cost of the drug. Increasing the yield of Taxol and its precursors that can be obtained from natural sources would result in a more reliable supply of the drug and help to reduce the cost of this vitally important medicine.

Metabolic engineering of the Taxol biosynthetic pathway has the dual purpose of increasing the production yields of Taxol in a cell culture system and of proofreading the steps of this extended pathway. Although structural genes encoding many reactions of the Taxol biosynthetic pathway have been cloned, the definition of most by functional expression has relied on the use of “surrogate” substrates because the predicted substrates were not available (Croteau et al. 2006). Thus, beyond the committed cyclization of geranylgeranyl diphosphate to taxa-4(5),11(12)-diene (Koepp et al. 1995) catalyzed by taxadiene synthase (Wildung and Croteau 1996), and the initial cytochrome P450-mediated hydroxylation of the parent olefin to 5α-hydroxytaxa-4(20),11(12)-diene (Hefner et al. 1996; Jennewein et al. 2004; Fig. 1), subsequent pathway steps remain unconfirmed. Metabolite profiling of cells transformed with biosynthetic genes can establish placement on the pathway, reveal flux contribution, and provide the targets for yield improvement. The latter could involve overexpression of genes controlling rate-limiting steps, or knockouts, for example, of the taxoid-14β-hydroxylase considered to direct an off-pathway branch to a large family of 14β-hydroxy taxoid side-products (Jennewein et al. 2003).
Fig. 1

Summary scheme of proposed Taxol biosynthetic pathway showing types of reactions from primary metabolism to Taxol. MEP = methylerythritol phosphate; IPP = isopentenyl diphosphate; DMAPP = dimethylallyl diphosphate; IPPI = isopentenyl diphosphate isomerase; GGPPS = geranyl geranyl diphosphate synthase; TS = taxadiene synthase

Two groups have published preliminary reports on the transformation of Taxus (Han et al. 1994; Kim et al. 2000), although neither study provided unambiguous evidence of stable transformation, nor was the crucial requirement for long-term sustainability established. Here, we describe the successful transformation of a T. cuspidata and a T. chinensis cell line with either A. rhizogenes or A. tumefaciens containing one of two binary plasmids with an intron-containing β-glucuronidase gene, and report the subsequent maintenance and Taxol productivity over 14 months of stably transformed Taxus cell suspension cultures.

Materials and methods

Chemicals and reagents

Plant tissue culture medium, plant growth regulators, and amino acids were obtained from Caisson Laboratories (Logan, UT, USA). X-gluc (5-bromo-4-chloro-3-indolyl-β-d-glucuronide, sodium salt) and antibiotics were from Research Products International Corporation (Mt. Prospect, IL, USA) and Gold Biotechnology (St. Louis, MO, USA). All other chemicals and reagents were from Sigma-Aldrich (St. Louis, MO, USA).

Plant cell cultures

Cell suspension cultures of T. cuspidata, cell line P00E, were established from callus cultures initiated from embryos excised from seeds collected in the Finch Arboretum (Spokane, WA, USA) in September 2000. Plant cell cultures of T. chinensis were similarly established from excised embryos from seeds purchased from Sandeman Seeds (Lalongue, France). All Taxus cell cultures were initiated, maintained, and screened for Taxol production as previously described (Ketchum and Gibson 1996; Hezari et al. 1997; Ketchum et al. 1999, 2003). The TM19 medium used for culture of Taxus cells was modified from our previously described TM10 medium (Ketchum et al. 1995) by replacing the carbohydrates with 2% sucrose, replacing the vitamins with twice the concentration of Gamborg’s B5 vitamins (Gamborg et al. 1968), omitting the abscissic acid, and replacing the agar with 0.4% gellan gum. For liquid cultures, freshly prepared glutamine/antioxidant solution was added immediately prior to addition of cells as described previously (Ketchum and Gibson 1996). Transgenic cell suspensions were grown in TM19 containing 2.5 mg l−1 hygromycin.

Cell counts

Estimates of cell density in Taxus suspension cell cultures were made using a modification of the procedure described by Naill and Roberts (2004). Five milliliter aliquots of 7-day-old suspension cell cultures of Taxus were transferred to individual wells of a six-well plate (Falcon 353046, Becton Dickinson, Franklin Lakes, NJ, USA). Filter-sterilized Pectolyase Y-23 (Karlan Research, Cottonwood, AZ, USA) was added to each well to a final concentration of 0.5%, and cells were incubated in the dark at 25°C on a rotary shaker at 50 rpm. After 4 h of incubation, cell aggregates were further disrupted by gentle up and down pipetting in a Pasteur pipette. At least 20 fields of 1 mm2 were counted in a hemacytometer for each cell line.

Binary vectors

Two binary vectors obtained from CAMBIA (Black Mountain, ACT, Australia) were used for transformation studies. pCAMBIA1301 (GenBank Acc. No. AF234297; Fig. 2) contains, within the T-DNA region of the vector, the Escherichia coli β-glucuronidase (gusA) gene (Jefferson et al. 1987; Jefferson 1989) with an intron from the castor bean catalase gene, thereby ensuring that glucuronidase expression is from eukaryotic cells and not from residual Agrobacterium. This vector also contains the hygromycin phosphotransferase gene (hptII) conferring hygromycin resistance in planta, and aminoglycoside adenyltransferase gene (aadA) conferring resistance to kanamycin and spectinomycin in bacterium. Both the gusA and hptII genes are under individual transcriptional control by separate copies of the cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter (CaMV35S).
Fig. 2

T-DNA region of binary vectors used for transformation experiments in this study. Additional information can be obtained from the GenBank database: pCAMBIA1301, accession number AF234297; pCAMBIA1305.2, accession number AF354046; pBI121, accession number AF485783 (reverse complement is shown so that left and right border regions are consistent with other vectors)

pCAMBIA1305.2 (GenBank Acc. No. AF354046; Fig. 2) is derived from pCAMBIA1301, in which the E. coligusA gene has been replaced by the intron-containing GUSPlus gene, a β-glucuronidase gene from Staphylococcus sp. that is codon-optimized for in planta expression to give more rapid and thermally stable color development with 5-bromo-4-chloro-3-indolyl-β-d-glucuronide (X-gluc). An additional feature of this vector is that a glycine-rich signaling peptide has been added to the GUSPlus gene to allow for extracellular excretion of the protein.

Binary vector pBI121 (Jefferson et al. 1987; Chen et al. 2003; GenBank Acc. No. AF485783) was obtained from Invitrogen (Carlsbad, CA, USA), and contains the nptII gene under the control of the nos promoter to confer resistance to kanamycin, and the gusA gene under transcriptional control of the CaMV35S promoter.

Agrobacterium strains

Several strains of both A. tumefaciens and A. rhizogenes were tested for efficient transformation of Taxus cell suspension cultures. A. rhizogenes ATCC strains 11325, 13333, 15834, and 25818 were obtained from the American Type Culture Collection (Manassas, VA, USA). A. tumefaciens strain EHA105 (Hood et al. 1993) was a gift of Prof. J. C. Carrington (Oregon State University). The Agrobacterium strains were made chemically competent and transformed with binary vectors using standard techniques (Sambrook et al. 1989).

Taxus transformation

A single colony of Agrobacterium selected on YM (Vincent 1970) agar plates containing 50 mg l−1 kanamycin was transferred and grown for 2 days at 28°C and 250 rpm in 2 ml liquid YM medium with kanamycin. Twenty-five milliliter of YM medium supplemented with 50 mg l−1 kanamycin and 50 μM acetosyringone was inoculated with 250 μl of this 2-day-old culture and grown overnight at 28°C and 250 rpm (OD600∼1.3). The bacterial medium was removed by centrifuging the entire culture at 3,000g for 15 min, and the resulting bacterial pellet was suspended in a 40 ml, 7-day-old Taxus culture in TM19 medium. Taxus cells and bacteria were incubated for 24 h at 125 rpm and 23°C. Taxus cells were washed by gently aspirating the medium with a 5 ml pipette, replacing with fresh TM19 medium containing 300 mg l−1 cefotaxime, and shaking for 15 min at 125 rpm and 23°C. This washing procedure was repeated three more times. Following the fourth wash, one or two grams of putatively transformed cells were plated on each of three to four 150 mm Petri dishes containing 25 ml of TM19 medium with 0.4% gellan gum and 300 mg l−1 cefotaxime. After 2 weeks of growth at 23°C, cells were transferred to selection medium consisting of TM19 with 300 mg l−1 cefotaxime and 2.5 mg l−1 hygromycin. Cells expressing the reporter gene could be stained for GUS activity after 2 weeks of growth on selection medium.

Following sufficient growth on agar medium, cell suspensions were reinitiated from callus and grown in TM19 with 300 mg l−1 cefotaxime and 2.5 mg l−1 hygromycin for 6 months, with subculturing every 2 weeks. After 6 months in suspension, cefotaxime was eliminated from the medium and the cells were grown in TM19 with 2.5 mg l−1 hygromycin.

β-Glucuronidase assay

β-Glucuronidase (GUS) activity was visualized by hydrolysis of X-gluc using a modification of the method of Castle and Morris (1994) in which the sodium salt dissolved in 0.2 M phosphate buffer, is substituted for the original cyclohexylammonium salt dissolved in N,N,-dimethyl formamide.

Southern blot analysis

Genomic DNA was isolated from 300 to 400 mg of each plant cell suspension culture using the DNeasy DNA extraction kit (Qiagen Inc., Valencia, CA, USA), according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Buffers and procedures for Southern blot analysis were according to Sambrook et al. (1989). Seven micrograms of genomic DNA from control and transgenic cultures were digested overnight with HindIII or XbaI (New England Biolabs, Cambridge, MA, USA) at 37°C; each enzyme cutting once within the T-DNA region of the plasmid. Digested DNA was electrophoresed on a 0.8% TAE-agarose gel in TAE buffer, for 16 h at 20 V. DNA was transferred to a Hybond-N+ nylon membrane (Amersham Pharmacia Biotech, Pisscataway, NJ, USA) according to Sambrook et al. (1989) and fixed by UV cross-linking. A 500 bp fragment of the gusA gene was prepared by PCR amplification of pCAMBIA1301 with the following forward primer, 5′-GCAGCGTAATGCTCTACACCACGCCGAAC, and reverse primer, 5′-TGCCATGTTCATCTGCCCAGTCGAGC. This DNA fragment was labeled with β-[32P]dCTP (Ready-to-Go Labeling Beads, Amersham Pharmacia Biotech) and residual unincorporated nucleotides were removed using ProbeQuant G-50 Micro Columns (Amersham Pharmacia Biotech) according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Following overnight hybridization at 65°C, membranes were washed according to standard procedures (Sambrook et al. 1989) and Kodak X-Omat Blue XB-1 film was exposed to the hybridized membrane at −80°C for 14 days.

Taxoid extraction from cells and HPLC analyses

Minor modifications in sample preparation were made to our previously described method for routine analytical screening of cell suspensions (Ketchum et al. 1999). A 250 μl aliquot of cell-free suspension medium was placed in the lower portion of a Mini-Uniprep filter/autosampler vial (Whatman, Florham Park, NJ, USA). An equal volume of CH3CN was added to the sample, the vial was capped with the filter portion of the unit by pushing the upper assembly partially into the lower assembly, and the sample was vortexed thoroughly and filtered by completely depressing the upper portion of the assembly. HPLC-MS analysis of the taxoid content of cells and suspension medium was as previously described (Ketchum and Croteau 2006).


Our preliminary experiments with sonication assisted Agrobacterium transformation (SAAT, Trick and Finer 1998) appeared to transiently transform T. cuspidata cells, and efficiency increased with time of sonication (Fig. 3). Sustained growth, however, could not be achieved with these putative transformants. Typical reporter genes, such as gusA in pBI121, showed significant β-glucuronidase activity ex planta and in Agrobacterium (Fig. 3). By lacking the ability to subculture these apparently transformed plant cells, we could not eliminate the possibility that GUS activity observed in the cells was due to GUS activity from residual Agrobacterium (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3

Sonication assisted transformation of T. cuspidata cell line P93AF 1 week after sonication for 0 to 60 s with various strains of A. rhizogenes containing pBI121. Note that controls show endogenous GUS activity in Agrobacterium strains 25818 and 11325

Preliminary experiments to determine an appropriate selection agent indicated that, although Taxus cultures are normally hypersensitive to environmental perturbations, they are quite tolerant of kanamycin, with cells still growing, albeit slowly, at 800 mg l−1 of the antibiotic (Fig. 4). In contrast to kanamycin, Taxus cells are sensitive to hygromycin, with complete inhibition of cell growth at a typical selection concentration of 2.5 mg l−1.
Fig. 4

Kanamycin resistance in two cell lines of T. x media after 4 weeks of growth on TM19 medium containing varying concentrations of selective agent. Units are mg l−1

The high proportion of non-transformed escapes obtained using kanamycin as a selection agent, and the ability of Agrobacterium containing pBI121 to afford positive GUS activity led to the subsequent evaluation of pCAMBIA1301 and pCAMBIA1305.2 binary vectors bearing intron-containing GUS reporter genes and hygromycin resistance genes in combination with a number of A. tumefaciens and A. rhizogenes strains (Fig. 2). Both wild-type A. rhizogenes ATCC strain 15834 containing pCAMBIA1301 and disarmed A. tumefaciens strain EHA105 containing pCAMBIA1305.2 successfully transformed T. cuspidata P00E cell suspension cultures. Transient GUS activity, by X-gluc staining and microscopic examination, was detected in these cells within 1 week of transformation. Callus colonies that were resistant to hygromycin could be detected within 2 weeks after transfer to selection medium (4 weeks after co-cultivation with the Agrobacteria). After 4 weeks on selection medium (6 weeks following co-cultivation), colonies were large enough to harvest one-half of the biomass for GUS staining and transfer the remaining biomass to fresh medium for scale-up (Fig. 5).
Fig. 5

GUS expression (arrows) in T. cuspidata cell line P00E; a Cells transformed with A. rhizogenes ATCC strain 15834 containing binary vector pCAMBIA1301 6 weeks after infection. (Bar = 250 μm); b GUSPlus expression in the same cell line transformed with A. tumefaciens strain EHA105 containing binary vector pCAMBIA1305.2 8 weeks after infection. (Bar = 1 mm)

Sufficient callus to inoculate suspension cultures was obtained within 4 months of initial transformation, and rapidly growing suspensions were established within 6 months. Suspension cultures established from transgenic callus and growing in hygromycin-containing medium showed no detectable difference in cell growth when compared to the untransformed parent cell line grown in hygromycin-free medium. These transgenic Taxus cultures have been maintained under continuous hygromycin selection for more than 9 or 20 months, (H04C or P00E, respectively) with no loss in vigor or loss of GUS expression (Fig. 6).
Fig. 6

GUS expression in suspension cell cultures of T. cuspidata cell line P00E 20 months after transformation and in T. chinensis cell line H04C 9 months after transformation; a GUS expression in P00E transformed with A. rhizogenes ATCC 15834 and pCAMBIA1301; b Untransformed P00E control; c GUSPlus expression in P00E transformed with A. tumefaciens EHA105 and pCAMBIA1305.2; d GUS expression in H04C transformed with A. rhizogenes ATCC 25818 and pCAMBIA1301; e Untransformed H04C control. All cells were 14 days old when 5 ml aliquots were harvested from suspension cultures, placed in six-well plates, and stained for β-glucuronidase activity

Southern hybridization analysis of Taxus suspension cultures confirmed T-DNA integration of gusA genes in both T. cuspidata cell line P00E and T. chinensis H04C (Fig. 7). The probe hybridized to the supercoiled pCAMBIA1301 but did not hybridize with either of the digested non-transgenic parent cell lines (Fig. 7). A similar protocol was used to prepare a Southern hybridization of cell lines transformed with pCAMBIA1305.2; however, the PCR probe amplified from the GusPlus reporter gene hybridized to digested DNA from both transgenic and control cell lines, but did not bind to the supercoiled pCAMBIA1305.2 plasmid (data not shown).
Fig. 7

Southern hybridization of Taxus cell suspension cultures transformed with pCAMBIA1301. Lanes c–h contain 7 μg genomic DNA. Lane assignments: a 2.5 pg supercoiled pCAMBIA1301; b 10 ng of HindIII digested Lambda DNA; cHindIII digest, untransformed control T. cuspidata cell line P00E; dHindIII digest, untransformed control T. chinenesis cell line H04C; eHindIII digest, transgenic T. cuspidata cell line P00E; fHindIII digest, transgenic T. chinenesis cell line H04C; gXbaI digest, transgenic T. cuspidata cell line P00E; hXbaI digest, transgenic T. chinenesis cell line H04C

Taxol productivity has been continuously monitored in these transgenic Taxus cells since suspension cultures were established. The transgenes introduced by the pCAMBIA vectors, including the two GUS reporter genes, the hygromycin resistance gene, and the CaMV35S promoter regulating those genes, have neither positively nor negatively affected Taxol production in the transgenic cultures (Fig. 8). While the total amount of Taxol is typically quite low in cell line P00E (for which we have the most data), the variation in Taxol productivity over 14 months of monitoring was similar in both transgenic cells and non-transgenic controls.
Fig. 8

Taxol concentrations in 12-day-old suspension cultures of T. cuspidata cell line P00E monitored from 7 to 20 months post-transformation. Mean of replicate samples are shown with standard errors for P00E (n = 6 to 12 flasks sampled for each data point); for P00E:1301 and P00E:1305.2 means are shown without error bars (n = 2 flasks sampled for each data point). P00E = untransformed parent control; P00E:1301 = P00E transformed with wild-type A. rhizogenes ATCC 15834 containing pCAMBIA1301; P00E:1305.2 = P00E transformed with disarmed A. tumefaciens strain EHA105 containing pCAMBIA1305.2

Estimates of transformation efficiency with non-embryogenic suspension cell cultures are particularly challenging in comparison to the transformation of explant sources used for the eventual regeneration of transgenic tissue. Unlike experiments with typical explants, such as leaves or embryos, a non-embryogenic suspension is composed of millions of undifferentiated cells and cell aggregates, each cell being the potential explant. In the three successful experiments described in this report, an average of 24 transformed calli was obtained per 2 g fresh weight of plated cells. Estimates of cell density in 7-day-old cultures of P00E are 2.7 × 105 cells ml−1 (1.9 × 106 cells g−1) and 7.3 × 104 cells ml−1 (5.1 × 105 cells g−1) for cell line H04C. These cell density estimates are consistent with values of 0.5 to 3 × 106 cells g−1 determined by Naill and Roberts (2004) for our previously described Taxus cell lines C93AD, P991, P93AF (Ketchum and Gibson 1996) and P093X (Ketchum et al. 1999). Thus, transformation efficiency is on the order of 0.0006% for P00E and 0.002% for H04C. Transient expression was much more common, and could usually be detected in 50% of the transformation experiments. However, obtaining a stable cell culture following the detection of transient expression proved exceptionally difficult. From the first experiment where actively growing transgenic callus was obtained, 113 transformation experiments were performed before another actively growing transgenic callus line was obtained. A more realistic estimate of transformation efficiency, therefore, may be that approximately 1% of experiments result in a stable, maintainable, transgenic cell line.


Literature reports of successful transformation of non-embryogenic suspension cultures in general, and of gymnosperms in particular, are limited (e.g. Nakamura and Ishikawa 2006; Tian et al. 2000). Because regeneration of Taxus is unnecessary for production of taxoids in culture, we decided to test wild-type strains of both A. rhizogenes and A. tumefaciens because there was no need to have a disarmed Agrobacterium strain for transmission of the vector. A. rhizogenes ATCC 15834 is an agropine-type strain (Petit et al. 1983) that has been used extensively for the development of hairy root cultures. A. tumefaciens EHA105 is a disarmed strain that is commonly used in the transformation of dicotyledonous species (Hood et al. 1993). Both these Agrobacterium strains were successfully used for transformation of Taxus cells.

Preliminary experiments demonstrated that Taxus cell cultures were resistant to concentrations of kanamycin typically used for selection with dicotyledonous species, e.g. 50 mg l−1 with tobacco cells (Fraley et al. 1983). The high proportion of non-transformed escapes that we obtained using kanamycin as a selection agent, and the ability of Agrobacterium cells containing pBI121 to exhibit β-glucuronidase activity, led us subsequently to test available pCAMBIA binary vectors with intron-containing GUS reporter genes and hygromycin resistance genes (Fig. 2). “Escape” colonies that were frequently encountered with kanamycin selection were eliminated by using hygromcyin at a concentration of 2.5 mg l−1, considerably less than the 10 mg l−1 concentration used by Kim et al. (2000). The intron in the gusA or GUSPlus gene eliminated the possibility that the bacteria were responsible for positive GUS assay results. Further confirmation of the T-DNA integration into the Taxus genome was demonstrated through Southern hybridization analysis (Fig. 7).

One of the challenges of using cell culture technology to produce useful amounts of Taxol from Taxus tissue cultures has been the establishment of healthy cultures. As has been well documented, Taxus plant cells are difficult to manipulate in vitro (Ketchum and Gibson 1996), and the additional stress imparted by transformation compounds the difficulty (Kim et al. 2000). T. cuspidata cell line P00E, although one of our lowest Taxol producing cell lines, grows robustly in culture and was used for many of our initial transformation experiments because it survived incubation with Agrobacterium with little noticeable effect, as opposed to the rapid reddening or browning that occurred in cultures of T. x media or T. canadensis.

Because these transgenic Taxus cells have been monitored continuously since these suspension cultures were established, we have detected no influence on Taxol production in the transgenic cultures due to the introduced genes (Fig. 8). Additionally, there were no detectable differences in the taxoid profile of the transgenic cultures compared to the untransformed control when cell and medium extracts were analyzed by HPLC-MS (data not shown). The fluctuation in Taxol productivity over time in both transgenic and non-transgenic Taxus cells is remarkable, in that the variability is independent of cell genotype and may indicate that environmental factors are responsible for this frequently observed occurrence in Taxus cell cultures (Ketchum and Gibson 1996). However, the equally plausible explanation that variability is genetically derived from the parent P00E cell line, but still unaffected by transformation, cannot be discounted.

If transgenic Taxus cell cultures are to be used for large-scale production of Taxol, then it is essential that these cultures grow as rapidly as the parent cells, and that they stably express the genes of interest for the extended time necessary for scale-up. For example, under our culture conditions, it takes 10 weeks to scale-up a 40 ml culture to produce sufficient biomass to inoculate a 125 l (final volume) culture. Our results indicate that it is possible to obtain and maintain rapidly dividing transgenic Taxus cell suspension cultures, and that the integrated genes do not necessarily affect growth or Taxol productivity when compared to the parent control.

Clearly, based on our “best” transformation efficiency of 1% of transformation experiments resulting in a stable transgenic Taxus cell line, transformation of Taxus is achievable although not yet routine. Experiments are underway to identify those factors critical for the successful and reliable transformation of Taxus. That one species of Taxus can be transformed with either a disarmed strain of A. tumefaciens or a wild-type strain of A. rhizogenes, and that a second can be transformed with an additional wild-type strain of A. rhizogenes, suggests that testing the many possible permutations of Taxus species and Agrobacterium strains may be one of the factors that are important for developing a more optimal transformation protocol.

The establishment of transgenic cell technology in Taxus is the first step toward metabolic engineering of the Taxol biosynthetic pathway, both to better understand the complex pathway and, ultimately, to improve drug production.


This investigation was supported by U.S. National Institutes of Health grant CA-55254, and by McIntire-Stennis Project 0967 from the Washington State University Agricultural Research Center. The authors wish to thank James Green and Carina Ng for technical assistance and Mark Wildung for insightful discussions.

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