Selectable marker-free transgenic plants without sexual crossing: transient expression of cre recombinase and use of a conditional lethal dominant gene
Transgenic tobacco plants were produced that contained single-copy pART54 T-DNA, with a 35S-uidA gene linked to loxP-flanked kanamycin resistance (nptII) and cytosine deaminase (codA) genes. Retransformation of these plants with pCre1 (containing 35S transcribed cre recombinase and hygromycin (hpt) resistance genes) resulted in excision of the loxP-flanked genes from the genome. Phenotypes of progeny from selfed-retransformed plants confirmed nptII and codA excision and integration of the cre-linked hpt gene. To avoid integration of the hpt gene, and thereby generate plants totally free of marker genes, we attempted to transiently express the cre recombinase. Agrobacterium tumefaciens (pCre1) was cocultivated with leaf discs of two pART54-transformed lines and shoots were regenerated in the absence of hygromycin selection. Nineteen of 773 (0.25%) shoots showed tolerance to 5-fluorocytosine (5-fc) which is converted to the toxic 5-fluorouracil by cytosine deaminase. 5-fc tolerance in six shoots was found to be due to excision of the loxP-flanked region of the pART54 T-DNA. In four of these shoots excision could be attributed to cre expression from integrated pCre1 T-DNA, whereas in two shoots excision appeared to be a consequence of transient cre expression from pCre1 T-DNA molecules which had been transferred to the plant cells but not integrated into the genome. The absence of selectable marker genes was confirmed by the phenotype of the T1 progeny. Therefore, through transient cre expression, marker-free transgenic plants were produced without sexual crossing. This approach could be applicable to the elimination of marker genes from transgenic crops which must be vegetatively propagated to maintain their elite genotype.
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