Gene stability in transgenic aspen (Populus). II. Molecular characterization of variable expression of transgene in wild and hybrid aspen
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In many annual plant species, transgene inactivation occurs most often when multiple incomplete/complete copies of the transgene are present in a genome. The expression of single-copy transgene loci may also be negatively influenced by the flanking plant DNA and/or chromosomal location (position effect). To understand transgene silencing in a long-lived tree system, we analyzed several wild (Populus tremula L.) and hybrid (P. tremula L. × P. tremuloides Michx.) aspen lines transgenic to the rolC phenotypical marker system and grown under in vitro, greenhouse and field conditions. The morphological features of the 35S-rolC gene construct were used to screen lines with altered transgene expression, which was later confirmed by Northern experiments. Molecular analyses of hybrid aspen revealed that transgene inactivation was always a consequence of transgene repeats. In wild non-hybrid aspen, however, multiple-insertion-based altered or loss of rolC expression was observed only in three out of six lines showing transgene inactivation. Sequencing analysis revealed AT-rich patches at the transgene flanking genomic regions of some of the wild aspen transgenic lines. One wild aspen line showing variable rolC expression revealed characteristic integration of the transgene into genomic regions containing a high AT content (85% or more). In the remaining two wild aspen transgenic lines unstable for rolC expression, single-copy integration and non-AT-rich or repeat-free transgene flanking regions were found. A partial suppression of rolC was observed in some plants of one of the field-grown wild aspen transgenic lines. In the other wild aspen transgenic line an additional mutant phenotype along with transgene inactivation was found. This indicates that the host genome has some control over expression of a transgene, and the possible role of AT-rich regions in defense against foreign DNA.
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