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Investigation of highly regulated promoters for the production of recombinant proteins in plants

Facy, Suzanne (2009) Investigation of highly regulated promoters for the production of recombinant proteins in plants. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Plants have been identified as promising expression systems for the commercial production of recombinant proteins. Plant-based protein production or “biofarming” offers a number of advantages over traditional expression systems in terms of scale of production, the capacity for post-translation processing, providing a product free of contaminants and cost effectiveness. A number of pharmaceutically important and commercially valuable proteins, such as antibodies, biopharmaceuticals and industrial enzymes are currently being produced in plant expression systems. However, several challenges still remain to improve recombinant protein yield with no ill effect on the host plant. The ability for transgenic plants to produce foreign proteins at commercially viable levels can be directly related to the level and cell specificity of the selected promoter driving the transgene.

The accumulation of recombinant proteins may be controlled by a tissue-specific, developmentally-regulated or chemically-inducible promoter such that expression of recombinant proteins can be spatially- or temporally- controlled. The strict control of gene expression is particularly useful for proteins that are considered toxic and whose expression is likely to have a detrimental effect on plant growth. To date, the most commonly used promoter in plant biotechnology is the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S promoter which is used to drive strong, constitutive transgene expression in most organs of transgenic plants. Of particular interest to researchers in the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities at QUT are tissue-specific promoters for the accumulation of foreign proteins in the roots, seeds and fruit of various plant species, including tobacco, banana and sugarcane. Therefore this Masters project aimed to isolate and characterise root- and seed-specific promoters for the control of genes encoding recombinant proteins in plant-based expression systems. Additionally, the effects of matching cognate terminators with their respective gene promoters were assessed.

The Arabidopsis root promoters ARSK1 and EIR1 were selected from the literature based on their reported limited root expression profiles. Both promoters were analysed using the PlantCARE database to identify putative motifs or cis-acting elements that may be associated with this activity. A number of motifs were identified in the ARSK1 promoter region including, WUN (wound-inducible), MBS (MYB binding site), Skn-1, and a RY core element (seed-specific) and in the EIR1 promoter region including, Skn-1 (seed-specific), Box-W1 (fungal elicitor), Aux-RR core (auxin response) and ABRE (ABA response). However, no previously reported root-specific cis-acting elements were observed in either promoter region. To confirm root specificity, both promoters, and truncated versions, were fused to the GUS reporter gene and the expression cassette introduced into Arabidopsis via Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. Despite the reported tissue-specific nature of these promoters, both upstream regulatory regions directed constitutive GUS expression in all transgenic plants. Further, similar levels of GUS expression from the ARSK1 promoter were directed by the control CaMV 35S promoter. The truncated version of the EIR1 promoter (1.2 Kb) showed some differences in the level of GUS expression compared to the 2.2 Kb promoter. Therefore, this suggests an enhancer element is contained in the 2.2 Kb upstream region that increases transgene expression.

The Arabidopsis seed-specific genes ATS1 and ATS3 were selected from the literature based on their seed-specific expression profiles and gene expression confirmed in this study as seed-specific by RT-PCR analysis. The selected promoter regions were analysed using the PlantCARE database in order to identify any putative cis elements. The seed-specific motifs GCN4 and Skn-1 were identified in both promoter regions that are associated with elevated expression levels in the endosperm. Additionaly, the seed-specific RY element and the ABRE were located in the ATS1 promoter. Both promoters were fused to the GUS reporter gene and used to transform Arabidopsis plants. GUS expression from the putative promoters was consitutive in all transgenic Arabidopsis tissue tested. Importantly, the positive control FAE1 seed-specific promoter also directed constitutive GUS expression throughout transgenic Arabidopsis plants. The constitutive nature seen in all of the promoters used in this study was not anticipated. While variations in promoter activity can be caused by a number of influencing factors, the variation in promoter activity observed here would imply a major contributing factor common to all plant expression cassettes tested.

All promoter constructs generated in this study were based on the binary vector pCAMBIA2300. This vector contains the plant selection gene (NPTII) under the transcriptional control of the duplicated CaMV 35S promoter. This CaMV 35S promoter contains two enhancer domains that confer strong, constitutive expression of the selection gene and is located immediately upstream of the promoter-GUS fusion. During the course of this project, Yoo et al. (2005) reported that transgene expression is significantly affected when the expression cassette is located on the same T-DNA as the 35S enhancer. It was concluded, the trans-acting effects of the enhancer activate and control transgene expression causing irregular expression patterns. This phenomenon seems the most plausible reason for the constitutive expression profiles observed with the root- and seed-specific promoters assessed in this study.

The expression from some promoters can be influenced by their cognate terminator sequences. Therefore, the Arabidopsis ARSK1, EIR1, ATS1 and ATS3 terminator sequences were isolated and incorporated into expression cassettes containing the GUS reporter gene under the control of their cognate promoters. Again, unrestricted GUS activity was displayed throughout transgenic plants transformed with these reporter gene fusions. As previously discussed constitutive GUS expression was most likely due to the trans-acting effect of the upstream CaMV 35S promoter in the selection cassette located on the same T-DNA. The results obtained in this study make it impossible to assess the influence matching terminators with their cognate promoters have on transgene expression profiles.

The obvious future direction of research continuing from this study would be to transform pBIN-based promoter-GUS fusions (ie. constructs containing no CaMV 35S promoter driving the plant selection gene) into Arabidopsis in order to determine the true tissue specificity of these promoters and evaluate the effects of their cognate 3’ terminator sequences. Further, promoter truncations based around the cis-elements identified here may assist in determining whether these motifs are in fact involved in the overall activity of the promoter.

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ID Code: 31771
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Collet, Christopher, Becker, Douglas, & Dale, James
Keywords: recombinant proteins, plants, biofarming, plant-based production, transgenic plants
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 14 Apr 2010 14:24
Last Modified: 29 Oct 2011 05:55

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