Development of a high-level gene expression system for the production of bioplastics in sugarcane

Geijskes, Suzelle Luise (2011) Development of a high-level gene expression system for the production of bioplastics in sugarcane. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Despite various approaches, the production of biodegradable plastics such as polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) in transgenic plants has met with limited success due largely to low expression levels. Even in the few instances where high levels of protein expression have been reported, the transgenic plants have been stunted indicating PHB is phytotoxic (Poirier 2002). This PhD describes the application of a novel virus-based gene expression technology, termed InPAct („In Plant Activation.), for the production of PHB in tobacco and sugarcane. InPAct is based on the rolling circle replication mechanism by which circular ssDNA viruses replicate and provides a system for controlled, high-level gene expression. Based on these features, InPAct was thought to represent an ideal system to enable the controlled, high-level expression of the three phb genes (phbA, phbB and phbC) required for PHB production in sugarcane at a preferred stage of plant growth. A Tobacco yellow dwarf virus (TbYDV)-based InPAct-phbA vector, as well as linear vectors constitutively expressing phbB and phbC were constructed and different combinations were used to transform tobacco leaf discs. A total of four, eight, three and three phenotypically normal tobacco lines were generated from discs transformed with InPAct-phbA, InPAct-phbA + p1300-TaBV P-phbB/phbC- 35S T, p1300-35S P-phbA-NOS T + p1300-TaBV P-phbB/phbC-35S T and InPAct-GUS, respectively. To determine whether the InPAct cassette could be activated in the presence of the TbYDV Rep, leaf samples from the eight InPActphbA + p1300-TaBV P-phbB/phbC-35S T plants were agroinfiltrated with p1300- TbYDV-Rep/RepA. Three days later, successful activation was indicated by the detection of episomes using both PCR and Southern analysis. Leaf discs from the eight InPAct-phbA + p1300-TaBV P-phbB/phbC-35S T transgenic plant lines were agroinfiltrated with p1300-TbYDV-Rep/RepA and leaf tissue was collected ten days post-infiltration and examined for the presence of PHB granules. Confocal microscopy and TEM revealed the presence of typical PHB granules in five of the eight lines, thus demonstrating the functionality of InPActbased PHB production in tobacco. However, analysis of leaf extracts by HPLC failed to detect the presence of PHB suggesting only very low level expression levels. Subsequent molecular analysis of three lines revealed low levels of correctly processed mRNA from the catalase intron contained within the InPAct cassette and also the presence of cryptic splice sites within the intron. In an attempt to increase expression levels, new InPAct-phb cassettes were generated in which the castorbean catalase intron was replaced with a synthetic intron (syntron). Further, in an attempt to both increase and better control Rep/RepA-mediated activation of InPAct cassettes, Rep/RepA expression was placed under the control of a stably integrated alc switch. Leaf discs from a transgenic tobacco line (Alc ML) containing 35S P-AlcR-AlcA P-Rep/RepA were supertransformed with InPAct-phbAsyn or InPAct-GUSsyn using Agrobacterium and three plants (lines) were regenerated for each construct. Analysis of the RNA processing of the InPAct-phbAsyn cassette revealed highly efficient and correct splicing of the syntron, thus supporting its inclusion within the InPAct system. To determine the efficiency of the alc switch to activate InPAct, leaf material from the three Alc ML + InPAct-phbAsyn lines was either agroinfiltrated with 35S P-Rep/RepA or treated with ethanol. Unexpectedly, episomes were detected not only in the infiltrated and ethanol treated samples, but also in non-treated samples. Subsequent analysis of transgenic Alc ML + InPAct-GUS lines, confirmed that the alc switch was leaky in tissue culture. Although this was shown to be reversible once plants were removed from the tissue culture environment, it made the regeneration of Alc ML + InPAct-phbsyn plant lines extremely difficult, due to unintentional Rep expression and therefore high levels of phb expression and phytotoxic PHB production. Two Alc ML + InPAct-phbAsyn + p1300-TaBV P-phbB/phbC-35S T transgenic lines were able to be regenerated, and these were acclimatised, alcohol-treated and analysed. Although episome formation was detected as late as 21 days post activation, no PHB was detected in the leaves of any plants using either microscopy or HPLC, suggesting the presence of a corrupt InPAct-phbA cassette in both lines. The final component of this thesis involved the application of both the alc switch and the InPAct systems to sugarcane in an attempt to produce PHB. Initial experiments using transgenic Alc ML + InPAct-GUS lines indicated that the alc system was not functional in sugarcane under the conditions tested. The functionality of the InPAct system, independent of the alc gene switch, was subsequently examined by bombarding the 35S Rep/RepA cassette into leaf and immature leaf whorl cells derived from InPAct-GUS transgenic sugarcane plants. No GUS expression was observed in leaf tissue, whereas weak and irregular GUS expression was observed in immature leaf whorl tissue derived from two InPAct- GUS lines and two InPAct-GUS + 35S P-AlcR-AlcA P-GUS lines. The most plausible reason to explain the inconsistent and low levels of GUS expression in leaf whorls is a combination of low numbers of sugarcane cells in the DNA replication-conducive S-phase and the irregular and random nature of sugarcane cells bombarded with Rep/RepA. This study details the first report to develop a TbYDV-based InPAct system under control of the alc switch to produce PHB in tobacco and sugarcane. Despite the inability to detect quantifiable levels of PHB levels in either tobacco or sugarcane, the findings of this study should nevertheless assist in the further development of both the InPAct system and the alc system, particularly for sugarcane and ultimately lead to an ethanol-inducible InPAct gene expression system for the production of bioplastics and other proteins of commercial value in plants.

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ID Code: 46160
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Dale, James & Harding, Robert
Keywords: gene expression, bioplastics, sugarcane
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 26 Sep 2011 02:20
Last Modified: 26 Sep 2011 02:20

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