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Oxalate oxidase transgene expression in American chestnut leaves has little effect on photosynthetic or respiratory physiology

Abstract

The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was a widespread foundation species before the spread of the chestnut blight (caused by Cryphonectria parasitica). Resistance to blight has been achieved by the genetic insertion of a single copy of an oxalate oxidase gene into the chestnut genome. Here, we assess potential transgene impacts on American chestnut physiology, with a focus on photosynthesis and respiration. We collected measurements of leaf respiration and photosynthetic capacity for transgenic (T) and non-transgenic (NT) sibling trees in two distinct experiments. Multiple measurements of photosynthesis (light and CO2 response curves) and foliar traits (leaf mass per unit area, foliar N concentration) were indicative of equally high rates of photosynthetic capacity across T and NT plants, with no significant differences between groups. Photosynthetic rates were equivalent between T and NT plants across two studies in two locations. We observed a modest stimulation of foliar dark respiration in T vs. NT plants (~ 5–15%) across a range of temperatures, but no change in foliar respiration in the light. The modest stimulation of dark respiration did not seem to be associated with an alteration in growth rate, as stem diameter and length were equivalent between T and NT types. Our findings suggest that there may be a minor impact of transgene expression on the respiratory physiology in some situations, but this effect is not likely to strongly impact the physiological ecology of this historically important species.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by funding from the Edna Bailey Sussman Foundation, secured with the help of Sara Fitzsimmons (Pennsylvania State University), and also funded in part by grants from The American Chestnut Foundation and the Templeton World Charity Foundation. Dr. Heather Coleman (Syracuse University) and Dr. Julia Burton (Michigan Tech) provided guidance for the development and refinement of this research, as did lab group members: Arianna Wills, Ry Patton, and Matthew John Hecking (SUNY ESF). We are grateful to Dr. John Stella and Dr. Jacqui Frair (SUNY ESF), the professors of Statistical Modeling in R for Ecologists, for their guidance on the statistical analysis. We also thank our lab’s interns, Cindy Duong and Sashoy Milton, for their help in collecting measurements in summer 2018 and 2019.

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This physiological project was conceived by AO and JED. The analyses were designed and carried out by AO with guidance from JED, WAP, and with contributions from AEN. Manuscript writing was led by AO and JED. All other co-authors (including DFW, VC, GE, and GH) contributed data and ideas, and edited the manuscript. The overall American Chestnut Restoration Project was led by WAP.

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Correspondence to John E. Drake.

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Onwumelu, A., Powell, W.A., Newhouse, A.E. et al. Oxalate oxidase transgene expression in American chestnut leaves has little effect on photosynthetic or respiratory physiology. New Forests (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11056-022-09909-x

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Keywords

  • Castanea dentata (American chestnut)
  • Cryphonectria parasitica (chestnut blight)
  • Photosynthesis
  • Physiology
  • Respiration
  • Transgenic