, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 489-501
Date: 08 Aug 2007

Metabolic engineering of novel ketocarotenoid production in carrot plants

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Carotenoids constitute a vast group of pigments that are ubiquitous throughout nature. Carrot (Daucus carota L.) roots provide an important source of dietary β-carotene (provitamin A), α-carotene and lutein. Ketocarotenoids, such as canthaxanthin and astaxanthin, are produced by some algae and cyanobacteria but are rare in plants. Ketocarotenoids are strong antioxidants that are chemically synthesized and used as dietary supplements and pigments in the aquaculture and neutraceutical industries. We engineered the ketocarotenoid biosynthetic pathway in carrot tissues by introducing a β-carotene ketolase gene isolated from the alga Haematococcus pluvialis. Gene constructs were made with three promoters (double CaMV 35S, Arabidopsis-ubiquitin, and RolD from Agrobacterium rhizogenes). The pea Rubisco small sub-unit transit peptide was used to target the enzyme to plastids in leaf and root tissues. The phosphinothricin acetyl transferase (bar) gene was used as a selectable marker. Following Agrobacterium-mediated transformation, 150 plants were regenerated and grown in a glasshouse. All three promoters provided strong root expression, while the double CaMV 35S and Ubiquitin promoters also had strong leaf expression. The recombinant ketolase protein was successfully targeted to the chloroplasts and chromoplasts. Endogenous expression of carrot β-carotene hydroxylases was up-regulated in transgenic leaves and roots, and up to 70% of total carotenoids was converted to novel ketocarotenoids, with accumulation up to 2,400 μg/g root dry weight. Astaxanthin, adonirubin, and canthaxanthin were most prevalent, followed by echinenone, adonixanthin and β-cryptoxanthin. Our results show that carrots are suitable for biopharming ketocarotenoid production for applications to the functional food, neutraceutical and aquaculture industries.