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Expression of a conifer glutamine synthetase gene in transgenic poplar

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 The assimilation of ammonium into organic nitrogen catalyzed by the enzyme glutamine synthetase (GS; EC has been suggested to be the limiting step for plant nitrogen utilization (H-M. Lam et al. 1995, Plant Cell 7: 887–898). We have developed a molecular approach to increase glutamine production in transgenic poplar by the overexpression of a conifer GS gene. A chimeric construct consisting of the cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter fused to pine cytosolic GS cDNA and nopaline synthetase polyadenylation region was transferred into pBin19 for transformation of a hybrid poplar clone (INRA 7171-B4, Populus tremula × P. alba) via Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Transformed poplar lines were selected by their ability to grow on selective medium containing kanamycin. The presence of the introduced gene in the poplar genome was verified by Southern blotting and polymerase chain reaction analysis. Transgene expression was detected in all selected poplar lines at the mRNA level. The detection of the corresponding polypeptide (41 kDa) and increased GS activity in the transgenics suggest that pine transcripts are correctly processed by the angiosperm translational machinery and that GS1 subunits are assembled in functional holoenzymes. Expression of the pine GS1 gene in poplar was associated with an increase in the levels of total soluble protein and an increase in chlorophyll content in leaves of transformed trees. Furthermore, the mean net growth in height of GS-overexpressing clones was significantly greater than that of non-transformed controls, ranging from a 76% increase in height at 2 months to a 21.3% increase at 6 months. Our results suggest that the efficiency of nitrogen utilization may be engineered in trees by genetic manipulation of glutamine biosynthesis.

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Received: 10 September 1998 / Accepted: 26 May 1999

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Gallardo, F., Fu, J., Cantón, F. et al. Expression of a conifer glutamine synthetase gene in transgenic poplar. Planta 210, 19–26 (1999).

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