, Volume 162, Issue 1, pp 11–22 | Cite as

The overexpression of asparagine synthetase A from E. coli affects the nitrogen status in leaves of lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) and enhances vegetative growth

  • Donato Giannino
  • Chiara Nicolodi
  • Giulio Testone
  • Giovanna Frugis
  • Emanuela Pace
  • Pietro Santamaria
  • Mauro Guardasole
  • Domenico Mariotti


The asparagine synthetase A (EC of E. coli (AS-A) mainly uses ammonia to produce asparagine, a key nitrogen transporter in plants. The AS-A encoding gene (asnA) was expressed constitutively in lettuce cultivar ‘Cortina’ under the control of pMAC, a chimerical promoter, to induce phenotypical alterations of plant growth and quality as a consequence of nitrogen status changes. Nine fertile transgenic lines harbouring independent T-DNA insertions were recovered. Primary transformants shared new visible traits such as a higher leaf number and wider leaf surface than the wild-type. The progeny of three primary transformants stably maintained these phenotypes, to which the synthesis of both asnA transcript and protein were associated. In pMAC:asnA plants, seed germination, formation and development of leaves, bolting and flowering occurred earlier than non-transformed plants. Twenty-eight days after sowing (das), transgenic plants showed a ca. 1.3 increase of leaf area and dry weight as compared to the wild-type. Moreover, the contents of asparagine, aspartic acid and glutamine, but not that of glutamic acid, of pMAC:asnA young plants (21 das) were greater than the wild-type. The level of total soluble protein was higher in transgenic than in non-transformed leaves borne on plants at 35, 50 and 75 das. A decrease of nitrate was also measured in pMAC:asnA leaves with respect to non-transformed ‘Cortina’, in transgenic populations at 60 das. In pMAC:asnA genotypes, the altered content of nitrogen transport amino acids, the tolerance to increasing doses of ammonium and phosphinothricin indirectly proved the AS-A enzymatic activity in lettuce.


Asparagine synthetase A Lettuce Growth enhancement 



Amino acid


Asparagine synthetase




Aspartic acid


Days after sowing


Glutamine synthetase




Glutamic acid









We are grateful to: Dr. Frank Schepers (Advanta Research, NTH) for providing AS-A antibodies and helpful suggestions in conducting Western blots; Dr. Carla Ticconi (University of Davis, CA, US) for criticism; Mr. Luigi Santini (IBBA-CNR) for lettuce care. This work was funded by Project EC-AIR CT no. 92–250, “Lettuce for the next century”, and by the CNR.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donato Giannino
    • 1
  • Chiara Nicolodi
    • 1
  • Giulio Testone
    • 1
  • Giovanna Frugis
    • 1
  • Emanuela Pace
    • 2
  • Pietro Santamaria
    • 3
  • Mauro Guardasole
    • 2
  • Domenico Mariotti
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Biology and Agricultural Biotechnology (IBBA)National Research Council (CNR) of ItalyMonterotondo Scalo, RomeItaly
  2. 2.Institute of Crystallography (IC) – CNRMonterotondo Scalo, RomeItaly
  3. 3.Department of Plant Science and ProductionUniversity of BariBariItaly

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