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Expression of a Tardigrade Dsup Gene Enhances Genome Protection in Plants


DNA damage is one of the most impactful events in living organisms, leading to DNA sequence changes (mutation) and disruption of biological processes. A study has identified a protein called Damage Suppressor Protein (Dsup) in the tardigrade Ramazzotius varieornatus that has shown to reduce the effects of radiation damage in human cell cultures (Hashimoto in Nature Communications 7:12808, 2016). We have generated tobacco plants that express the codon-optimized tardigrade Dsup gene and examined their responses when treated with mutagenic chemicals, ultraviolet (UV) and ionizing radiations. Our studies showed that compared to the control plants, the Dsup-expressing plants grew better in the medium containing mutagenic ethylmethane sulfonate (EMS). RT-qPCR detected distinct expression patterns of endogenous genes involved in DNA damage response and repair in the Dsup plants in response to EMS, bleomycin, UV-C and X-ray radiations. Comet assays revealed that the nuclei from the Dsup plants appeared more protected from UV and X-ray damages than the control plants. Overall, our studies demonstrated that Dsup gene expression enhanced tolerance of plants to genomutagenic stress. We suggest the feasibility of exploring genetic resources from extremotolerant species such as tardigrades to impart plants with tolerance to stressful environments for future climate changes and human space endeavors.

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The work was supported in part by the Undergraduate Research Grants from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and Miami Dade College School of Science STEM Summer Research Program. Undergraduate students Ronscardy Mondesir, Andrew Adeyiga, Tahoe Albergo, Andrew Balsamo, Nicholas Nifakos, Milove Jeannot, Amanda Lam, Nicholas Pizzo and Mohamed Abutineh participated in various stages of experiments of this project. We thank Sophia Zheng for initial discussion of using Dsup as a possible high school science project. We also thank Drs. Patricia Keating and James Hartmann for exploring with flow cytometry assays, A.D. Henderson University High School, FAU Owls Imaging Lab for CT scanning and FAU School of Medicine imaging center for fluorescence microscopy.

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XHZ conceived and designed the experiments. JK, XLJ, and XHZ performed the experiments. XHZ and JK wrote the manuscript with comments from all co-authors.

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Correspondence to Xing-Hai Zhang.

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Kirke, J., Jin, XL. & Zhang, XH. Expression of a Tardigrade Dsup Gene Enhances Genome Protection in Plants. Mol Biotechnol 62, 563–571 (2020).

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  • Damage suppressor protein (dsup)
  • DNA damage
  • Nuclei
  • Tardigrade (Ramazzotius varieornatus)
  • Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum)