Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 Selectable marker genes in transgenic plants: applications, alternatives and biosafety Brian Miki, Sylvia McHugh Research Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Room 2091, KW Neatby Bldg., CEF, 960 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, Ont., Canada K1A 0C6 Received 18 July 2003; received in revised form 15 October 2003; accepted 27 October 2003 Approximately fifty marker genes used for transgenic and transplastomic plant research or crop development have been assessed for efficiency, biosafety, scientific applications and commercialization. Selectable marker genes can be divided intoseveral categories depending on whether they confer positive or negative selection and whether selection is conditional ornon-conditional on the presence of external substrates. Positive selectable marker genes are defined as those that promote thegrowth of transformed tissue whereas negative selectable marker genes result in the death of the transformed tissue.
The positive selectable marker genes that are conditional on the use of toxic agents, such as antibiotics, herbicides or drugs were the first to be developed and exploited. More recent developments include positive selectable marker genes that are conditionalon non-toxic agents that may be substrates for growth or that induce growth and differentiation of the transformed tissues.
Newer strategies include positive selectable marker genes which are not conditional on external substrates but which alter thephysiological processes that govern plant development.
A valuable companion to the selectable marker genes are the reporter genes, which do not provide a cell with a selective advantage, but which can be used to monitor transgenic events and manually separate transgenic material from non-transformedmaterial. They fall into two categories depending on whether they are conditional or non-conditional on the presence of externalsubstrates. Some reporter genes can be adapted to function as selectable marker genes through the development of novel substrates.
Despite the large number of marker genes that exist for plants, only a few marker genes are used for most plant research and crop development. As the production of transgenic plants is labor intensive, expensive and difficult for most species, practicalissues govern the choice of selectable marker genes that are used. Many of the genes have specific limitations or have not beensufficiently tested to merit their widespread use. For research, a variety of selection systems are essential as no single selectablemarker gene was found to be sufficient for all circumstances. Although, no adverse biosafety effects have been reported for themarker genes that have been adopted for widespread use, biosafety concerns should help direct which markers will be chosen forfuture crop development. Common sense dictates that marker genes conferring resistance to significant therapeutic antibioticsshould not be used.
An area of research that is growing rapidly but is still in its infancy is the development of strategies for eliminating selectable marker genes to generate marker-free plants. Among the several technologies described, two have emerged with significantpotential. The simplest is the co-transformation of genes of interest with selectable marker genes followed by the segregation ofthe separate genes through conventional genetics. The more complicated strategy is the use of site-specific recombinases, under ∗ Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (B. Miki).
0168-1656/$ – see front matter 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.jbiotec.2003.10.011 B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 the control of inducible promoters, to excise the marker genes and excision machinery from the transgenic plant after selectionhas been achieved.
In this review each of the genes and processes will be examined to assess the alternatives that exist for producing transgenic plants.
2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Selectable marker genes; Transgenic plants; Biosafety of transgenic crops were grown globally ( Breakthroughs in DNA cloning and sequencing All transformation systems for creating transgenic technologies are yielding unprecedented amounts of plants require separate processes for introducing information on the composition of genes and their cloned DNA into living plant cells, for identifying regulatory elements as well as the structural elements or selecting those cells that have integrated the DNA that give organization to the genomes of different or- into the appropriate plant genome (nuclear or plastid) ganisms. The most powerful experiments for assessing and for regenerating or recovering fully developed their function have used technologies for modifying plants from the transformed cell. Selectable marker cloned sequences and inserting them into genomes of genes have been pivotal to the development of plant diverse organisms to study the outcome on the trans- transformation technologies because the marker genes genic organisms. This technology has made possible allow scientists to identify or isolate the cells that are the construction of organisms with novel genes and expressing the cloned DNA and to monitor and select regulatory sequences that are the products of experi- for the transformed progeny. As only a very small pro- mental design rather than the products of evolutionary portion of cells are transformed in most experiments, processes. Transgenic organisms allow scientists to the chances of recovering transgenic lines without cross the physical and genetic barriers that separate selection are usually low. Since the selectable marker pools of genes among organisms. A sampling of the gene is expected to function in a range of cell types, plant molecular biology literature in 2002 revealed it is usually constructed as a chimeric gene using reg- that transgenic plants are used as an important re- ulatory sequences that ensure constitutive expression search tool in about a half of the refereed publications throughout the plant. The selectable marker gene is (The current economic growth in trans- usually co-transformed with a gene of interest. Once genic crops is reflected in the global rate of adoption the transgenic plant has been generated, characterized for the major commodities in 2002. These are soy- and bred through conventional genetic crosses, the bean (51%), cotton (20%), canola (12%) and corn selectable marker gene generally no longer serves (9%) (In 2002, 58.7 million hectares an essential purpose. If the selectable markers are to Table 1Utilization of transgenic plants and selectable marker genes in papers published in selected journals in 2002 Plant Cell Plant Molecular Biology (%) Breeding (%) Papers using transgenic plants Kanamycin resistance Hygromycin resistance Other herbicide resistance (chlorsulfuron or glyphosate) Other selection strategies The papers did not include Arabidopsis T-DNA mutants. Approximately 450 papers were examined.
a Transgenic Research publishes in both plant and animal science.
B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 remain expressed within the transgenic plant, it is lar Breeding and Transgenic Research, revealed that important for both scientific and economic reasons three selection systems were employed in over 90% that the selectable marker gene does not have broad of the scientific publications. These were selection on pleiotropic effects. Consequently, the use of biologi- the antibiotics kanamycin or hygromycin and the her- cal processes that are foreign to plants and that have a bicide phosphinothricin (An examination of high level of enzyme specificity was initially adopted.
the selectable marker genes used in commercial trans- The questions that relate to the biosafety of the se- genic varieties showed that selectable markers that lectable marker genes are the same as those that re- confer resistance to kanamycin or phosphinothricin late to other genes associated with plants, humans and were the most common (In confined field our environments: Do they code for toxic products trials the incidence of hygromycin selection was also or allergens? Will they create unwanted changes in very high As herbicide resistance provides the composition of the plant? Will they compromise a natural selectable marker system, herbicide-resistant the use of therapeutic drugs? Will there be horizon- lines and varieties can usually be produced without tal gene transfer to relevant organisms and pathogens? the need for other selectable marker genes Can gene transfer to other plants create new weeds The popularity of these selection systems re- or compromise the value of non-target crops? Clearly, flects the efficiency and general applicability of their there is no single answer and every gene has to be as- use across a wide range of species and regenerable tis- sessed individually. A variety of strategies are being sue culture systems. In a search for greater efficiency developed to eliminate marker genes after the selec- and freedom to operate, almost fifty different selec- tion phase of plant production to create marker-free tion systems have been reported but few have reached transgenic plants or to restrict pollen flow from trans- practical application. For the sequential pyrimiding of genic plants. Once again the need for the adoption of transgenes into plants the use of a variety of efficient these strategies depends on the gene of interest that is selectable marker genes is the easiest experimental being co-transformed with the marker gene as well as approach for most research labs. Vectors have been the characteristics of the particular marker gene.
developed for this purpose with different selectable In this comprehensive review, we will examine the marker genes (however, a variety full range of selectable marker genes that have been of other strategies are being developed which include developed for use in transformation systems for pro- co-transformation or marker gene excision and gene ducing transgenic plants, what we know about their targeting (reviewed by characteristics and their use in crop plants. We will re- The terminology used in the plant literature to de- view the information that is available on the biosafety scribe selection systems has been confusing and at of various selectable marker genes and examine the times inconsistent with terminology used with other status of systems for creating marker-free transgenic organisms. We have adopted the terminology of pos- plants. This information needs to be examined in order itive and negative, conditional and non-conditional to assess the alternatives that are available or that must selection systems to accurately describe the various be developed for generating safe transgenic plants for systems for plants and to be consistent with the broader research and commercialization.
use of the terminology across organisms ( Positive selection systems are those that promote 2. Selectable marker gene systems
the growth of transformed cells. They may be dividedinto conditional-positive or non-conditional-positive 2.1. Background selection systems. A conditional-positive selectionsystem consists of a gene coding for a protein, usually As no single selection system is adequate for an enzyme, that confers resistance to a specific sub- all purposes, there is a need for several systems.
strate that is toxic to untransformed plant cells or that An examination of the scientific literature from the encourages growth and/or differentiation of the trans- year 2002 appearing in the peer-reviewed journals formed cells. In plant conditional-positive selection The Plant Cell, Plant Molecular Biology, Molecu- systems the substrate may act in one of several ways.
B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 Table 2Selectable markers in genetically modified crops with approvals for commercial use (information extracted from Beta vulgaris (sugar beet) GTSB77 (InVigorTM) Glyphosate herbicide resistance Phosphinothricin herbicide resistance, specifically glufosinate ammonium Brassica napus (canola, High laurate and myristate canola Glyphosate herbicide resistance GT73, RT73 (Roundup Glyphosate herbicide resistance HCN10 (Liberty-LinkTM Phosphinothricin herbicide resistance, specifically glufosinate ammonium HCN92 (Liberty LinkTM Phosphinothricin herbicide resistance, specifically glufosinate ammonium Phosphinothricin herbicide resistance, specifically glufosinate ammonium MS1, RF1 → PGS1 Male sterility, fertility restoration, pollination control, glufosinateherbicide resistance Male sterility, fertility restoration, pollination control, glufosinateherbicide resistance Male sterility, fertility restoration, pollination control, glufosinateherbicide resistance Tolerance to herbicides bromoxynil male sterility, fertility restoration, phosphinothricin herbicide resistance Male sterility, fertility restoration, phophinothricin herbicide resistance Carica papaya (papaya) Papaya ringspot virus resistance Cichorium intybus RM3-3, RM3-4, RM3-6 Male sterility, phosphinothricin herbicide tolerance, specificallyglufosinate ammonium Cucumis melo Cucurbita pepo (squash) Resistance to cucumber mosaic virus, watermelon mosaic virus, zucchiniyellow mosaic virus Resistance to watermelon mosaic virus and zucchini yellow mosaic virus Modified flower colour, sulfonylurea herbicide resistance Delayed senescence, sulfonylurea herbicide resistance 959A, 988A, 1226A, Modified flower colour, sulfonylurea 1351A, 1363A,1400A herbicide resitance B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 Table 2 (Continued ) Glycine max L. (soybean) A2704-12, A2704-21, Phosphinothricin herbicide tolerance, specifically glufosinate ammmonium Phosphinothricin herbicide tolerance, pat–PAT, specifically glufosinate ammmonium Phosphinothricin herbicide tolerance, pat–PAT, specifically glufosinate ammmonium G94-1, G94-19, G168 Modified fatty acid content, uidA–GUS, specifically high oleic acid GTS 40-3-2 (Roundup Glyphosate herbicide tolerance CP4 epsps–EPSPS Phosphinothricin herbicide tolerance Gossypium hirsutum L.
MON-15985-7 (Bollgard II®) Resistance to lepidopteran insects uidA–GUS, Sulfonylurea herbicide resistance Resistance to lepidopteran insects, oxynil herbicide resistance Oxynil herbicide tolerance MON 1445/1698 (Roundup Glyphosate herbicide tolerance Ready®)MON 531/757/1076 Resistance to lepidopteran insects Linum usitatissimum L.
Sulfonylurea herbicide resistance Increased shelf life (delayed ripening) Resistance to lepidopteran insects Delayed softening Delayed softening Nicotiana tabacum oxynil herbicide tolerance Oryza sativa (rice) LLRICE06, LLRICE62 Phosphinothricin herbicide tolerance, specifically glufosinate ammmonium Solanum tuberosum ATBT04-6, ATBT04-27, Resistance to colorado potato beetle ATBT04-30, ATBT04-31,ATBT04-36, SPBT02-5,SPBT02-7 (Atlantic andSuperior NewLeaf®)BT6, BT10, BT12, BT16, resistance to colorado potato beetle BT17,BT18, BT23 (RussetBurbank NewLeaf®)RBMT21-129, Resistance to colorado potato beetle, neo–NPTII, CP4 RBMT21-350, RBMT22-082 resistance to potato leafroll luteovirus epsps (in RBMT22-82 (Russet Burbank NewLeaf® Resistance to colorado potato beetle, SEMT15-15 (NewLeaf® Y) resistance to potato virus Y Zea mays (maize) 176 (NaturGard TM, Resistance to european corn borer, phosphinothricin herbicide tolerance B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 Table 2 (Continued ) Male sterility, phosphinothricin herbicide resistance Phosphinothricin herbicide tolerance, specifically glufosinate ammmonium Resistance to european corn borer, phosphinothricin herbicide tolerance CBH-351 (StarLinkTM) Resistance to european corn borer, phosphinothricin herbicide tolerance DBT418 (Bt XtraTM) Resistance to european corn borer, phosphinothricin herbicide tolerance GA21 (Roundup Ready®) Glyphosate herbicide resistance Resistance to european corn borer CP4 epsps–EPSPS,goxv247–GOX, MON802 (Yeildgard®) Resistance to european corn borer, glyphosate herbicide tolerance Resistance to european corn borer MON810 (Yeildgard®) Resistance to european corn borer Glyphosate herbicide tolerance Resistance to corn root worm Male sterility, phosphinothricin herbicide resistance specificallyglufosinate ammonium Male sterility, phosphinothricin herbicide resistance specificallyglufosinate ammonium NK603 (Roundup Ready®) Glyphosate herbicide tolerance CP4 epsps–EPSPS T14, T25 (Liberty-LinkTM) Phosphinothricin herbicide resistance, specifically glufosinate ammonium TC1507 (HerculexTM I) Resistance to european corn borer, phosphinothricin herbicide tolerance a Abbreviations: EPSPS, 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase; GOX, glyphosate oxidoreductase; GUS, ␤-glucuronidase, NPTII, neomycin phosphtransferase II; NOS, nopaline synthase; PAT, phosphinothricin N-acetyl transferase.
b Marker was used for selection but was segregated away in the final product.
c bla, aad, and in certain cases neo are under the control of bacterial promoters and were used for bacterial selection. They are not expressed in plant cells.
It may be an antibiotic (a herbicide ( cells. There is a concern that the transformation effi- a drug or metabolite analogue (or a carbon ciencies are suboptimal with toxic substrates because supply or phytohormone precursor (In each dying untransformed cells may inhibit transformed case the gene codes for an enzyme with specificity cells from proliferating by secreting inhibitors or pre- to a substrate to encourage the selective growth and venting transport of essential nutrients to the living proliferation of the transformed cells. The substrate transformed cells (Hardrup et al., 1998a). The manA may be toxic or non-toxic to the untransformed cells.
gene, which codes for phosphomannose isomerase, is The nptII gene, which confers kanamycin resistance an example of a conditional-positive selection system by inhibiting protein synthesis is the classic where the selection substrate is not toxic ( example of a system that is toxic to untransformed In this system, the substrate mannose is unable to B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 the erroneous implication is that systems, such as the Marker genes listed in US field test notifications and release per- nptII gene, are negative selection systems because mits for the years 2001 and 2002 (data extracted from toxic selective agents are used ( Number of records in Non-conditional-positive selection systems do not Neomycin phosphotransferase II require external substrates yet promote the selective Hygromycin B phosphotransferase growth and differentiation of transformed material. An example is the ipt gene that enhances shoot develop- ment by modifying the plant hormone levels endoge- Acetolactate synthase or nously (As these selectable markers often alter cell division and differentiation there is a signif- icant alteration in the morphology, development and Cyanamide hydratase physiology of the transgenic plant. Strategies are there- fore needed to limit the expression of the markers by Green fluorescent protein using inducible promoters or by creating marker-freeplants.
Negative selection systems have been described act as a carbon source for untransformed cells but in plants for genes that result in the death of it will promote the growth of cells transformed with transformed cells. These are dominant selectable manA. In the literature, the positive nature of this se- marker systems that may be described as conditional lection strategy, has been emphasized. Unfortunately, and non-conditional selection systems. When the Table 4Toxic antibiotics and selectable marker genes used for the conditional-positive selection of transgenic and transplastomic plants neo, nptII Escherichia coli Tn5 Paramomycin, G418 nptI (aphA1) Escherichia coli Tn601 Shigella sp.
Shigella sp.
Adenyl transferase Escherichia coli Bleomycin resistance Escherichia coli Tn5 Dihydropteroate synthase Escherichia coli pR46 Acetyl transferase Streptomyces sp Escherichia coli Tn5 acetyl transferase a Aminoglycosides include kanamycin, neomycin, geneticin (G418), paramomycin gentamicin, tobramycin, apramycin, depending on the specificities of the enzymes.
B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 Table 5Toxic herbicides and selectable marker genes used for the conditional-positive selection of transgenic plants pat, bar Phosphinothricin acetyl EPSP synthase Petunia hybrida, Zea mays phosphate synthase Escherichia coli della Cioppa et al., 1987 Acetolactate synthase Acetolactate synthase Bromoxynil nitrilase Cyanamide hydratase Table 6Toxic drugs, metabolite analogues and enzymes used for the conditional-positive selection of transgenic plants Drugs and analogues Genes Spinacia oleracea Escherichia coli, Octopine synthase Tryptophan decarboxylase Dihydrofolate reductase Escherichia coli mouse Candida albicans selection system is not substrate dependent, it is a ase to ablate specific cell types ( non-conditional-negative selection system ( ). An example is the expres- When the action of the toxic gene requires a sub- sion of a toxic protein, such as a ribonucle- strate to express toxicity, the system is a conditional Table 7Non-toxic agents and enzymes used for the conditional-positive selection of transgenic plants Genome References manA (pmi) Phosphomannose Escherichia coli Escherichia coli B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 Table 8Enzymes used for the non-conditional-positive selection of transgenic plants Isopentyl transferases "Hairy root"phenotype Transcription factor (enhancer of shootregeneration 1) negative selection system ( One cannot assume that plant resistance to a se- Some conditional-negative selection systems lective agent conferred by a specific gene will re- used in plants are described in They in- sult in a good selectable marker gene system just clude the bacterial codA gene, which codes for cy- because highly-resistant plants can be obtained.
tosine deaminase (the bacterial For example the bacterial gene tfdA, which codes cytochrome P450 mono-oxygenase gene ( the bacterial haloalkane dehalogenase (DPAM), confers high levels of resistance to the syn- gene (or the Arabidopsis alcohol thetic auxin 2,4-D but it is completely ineffective as dehydrogenase gene (Each a selectable marker gene in tobacco leaf disc trans- of these converts non-toxic agents to toxic agents re- formation and for selection of transgenic seedlings in sulting in the death of the transformed cells. The codA germination assays ).
gene has also been shown to be an effective dominant To be effective, a selectable marker gene system must negative selection marker for chloroplast transforma- encourage the selective growth and differentiation of tion (The Agrobacterium the transformed tissue in addition to providing resis- aux2 and tms2 genes are interesting in that they can tance to a substrate. It is commonly found that some also be used in positive selection systems. Combi- conditional-positive selection systems will be more nations of positive-negative selection systems may effective in certain plant species and regeneration be invaluable for enriching certain kinds of events in systems than others. An example is the lower effi- plant cells, such as gene targeting ciency of kanamycin resistance as a selection system and for screening against certain genetic events.
in cereals than in dicots.
Table 9Chemicals and enzymes for the conditional-negative selection of transgenic tissues Cytosine deaminase Escherichia coli Naphthalene acetamide Indoleacetic acid Sulfonylurea R7402 Alcohol dehydrogenase B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 2.2. Conditional-positive selection systems using and ATP-dependent O-adenylation by nucleotidyl- All of the effective sources of antibiotic resistance that have been used to develop selectable markergenes for transgenic plants have been taken from bac- terial sources (The genes require regulatory glycoside 3-phosphotransferase II (APH [3] II, E.C sequences that are functional in plants and therefore, also known as neomycin phosphotrans- all are chimeric structures. Some of the genes can ferase II (NPTII), was shown to be effective as a act as selectable markers for both the nuclear and selectable marker in mammalian and yeast cells, plastid genomes; however, they require separate reg- therefore it was the first to be tested in plants. Since ulatory sequences (In plastids, that time it has become the most widely used se- the selectable marker genes are targeted to favourable lectable marker system in plants. NPTII catalyses the sites within the plastid genome by homologous re- ATP-dependent phosphorylation of the 3-hydroxyl combination (In the nucleus, group of the amino-hexose portion of certain amino- the insertions are random and therefore subject to glycosides including neomycin, kanamycin, geneticin position effects; however, technologies for targeted (G418), and paramomycin. The nptII (also known as insertions are being developed (reviewed by neo) gene from Escherichia coli transposon Tn5 was first used to construct chimeric genes for constitutiveexpression in plants by fusing it with the 5 and 3 reg- 2.2.1. Aminoglycoside-modifying enzymes ulatory sequences of the A. tumefaciens T-DNA gene The aminoglycoside antibiotics include a number nopaline synthase (nos). It was shown to be efficient in of molecules (e.g. kanamycin, neomycin, gentamicin the selection of transformed petunia or tobacco cells derivative G418, paromomycin) that are very toxic to on kanamycin or G418 ( plant, animal and fungal cells (reviewed by Kanamycin, which has played a prominent role extent the chimeric nptI gene from Tn601 was also in the development of plant transformation technolo- effective (The nptII gene used in gies, is produced by the soil actinomycete Strepto- many plant selectable marker constructs, contained myces kanamyceticus as a trisaccharide composed of a mutation in the coding region that reduced the en- a deoxystreptamine and two glucosamines. Neomycin zyme activity of NPTII (This is a tetrasaccharide produced by another actinomycete, mutation has subsequently been corrected in some Streptomyces fragdiae. These antibiotics inhibit pro- vectors (). Research applications tein synthesis in bacteria by binding to the ribosomal using nptII gene constructs have also diversified. For subunits and similarly inhibit protein synthesis in eu- example, gene tagging experiments have been con- karyote plastids and mitochondria.
ducted in which promoterless nptII genes have been inserted randomly into Nicotiana plumbaginifolia and zymes are commonly found among bacteria and Nicotiana tabacum. Selection on kanamycin was used antibiotic-producing actinomycetes and are usually to recover insertions into expressed genes or gene encoded on extrachromasomal elements such as regulatory elements to probe the plant genome for bacterial plasmids and transposons. Consequently, new and novel genes and regulatory elements that are aminoglycoside resistance is prevalent among soil not accessible through conventional cloning strategies and enteric microbes (reviewed by Regulation of nptII expression may be changed in major classes of aminoglycoside-modifying enzymes various ways to alter the selection conditions. Ele- have been used to create selection systems for vation of transcription levels with strong promoters, plants; they confer resistance through ATP-dependent like the cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter or the O-phosphorylation by phosphotransferases, acetyl enhanced 35S promoter, raised the level of NPTII CoA-dependent N-acetylation by acetyltransferases enzyme activity and tolerance to kanamycin without B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 creating instability in the expression of the nptII gene There have been no reports of adverse effects of either NPTII or the nptII gene on humans, animals or problem with the 35S promoter is that, in addition to the environment (US plants, it functions in bacteria, such as E. coli and A. tumefaciens. The same is true for the nopaline syn- Generally, the amount of NPTII protein expressed thase promoter (nos) which was used in many early in plants is low ranging, for example, from 0.00005 vector constructs. Furthermore, the 35S promoter is to 0.001% of the fresh weight of cotton seed, potato active in fungi and endophytic bacteria that colo- tuber or tomato fruit. To obtain enough protein for nize plants (discussed in There safety assessments, the protein was expressed in E. is a concern that expression in microorganisms may coli and purified (Studies with interfere with the study of the early events in transfor- mice revealed that NPTII degraded rapidly in simu- mation (and raises concerns lated gastric and intestinal fluids suggesting that the about horizontal transfer of the nptII gene ( use of aminoglycoside antibiotics would not be com- The insertion of plant introns, such as promised and that allergic responses would be unlikely intron 3 from the bean storage protein gene, phase- (Furthermore, consumption of olin, into the nptII gene sequence has been shown massive dosages of NPTII did not generate ill effects to limit expression to the plant on the health of mice NPTII has Furthermore, intron 2 from the potato ST-LS1 been approved by the US Food and Drug Administra- gene was found to limit nptII expression to dicots and tion (FDA) as a food additive for tomato, cotton and monocots (without reducing to- oilseed rape (US Because of the rela- bacco or potato transformation efficiency ( tive toxicity of kanamycin and neomycin and the wide Other introns, such as intron 1 of the spread resistance to these antibiotics, they are rarely maize Shrunken 1 (Sh 1) gene, limited expression used for human therapy. A 1993 WHO workshop con- selectively to monocots (These ex- cluded that the use of the nptII marker gene in genet- periments demonstrate that the regulatory sequences ically modified plants posed no risks to human health fused to selectable marker genes are very important for maximizing efficiency for specific plants.
An assessment of the ecological impact of the use The nptII gene is the most frequently used se- of the nptII gene in crops has been discussed at length lectable marker gene for generating transgenic plants by It seems that the amount of free for research purposes. An examination of research kanamycin accumulating in soils, through the action publications from the year 2002 appearing in the of microorganisms or animal feces, is restricted by peer-reviewed journals, The Plant Cell, Plant Molec- absorption to soil components so that no direct selec- ular Biology, Molecular Breeding and Transgenic Re- tion pressure for kanamycin resistant plants can oc- search, revealed that 44–77% of the studies that used cur. Changes to the genotype of transgenic plants are transgenic plants used the nptII gene as the selectable limited and enhancement of physiological fitness re- marker (The gene is very efficient in model sulting from pleiotropic effects of nptII expression has research species such as Arabidopsis and tobacco, not been documented.
which represent 15–73% of the dicot species or rice All of the above studies addressed nptII expression and maize, which are the most common monocots used in the nuclear genome. Low levels of kanamycin can in published studies (4–33%). A review of field trial also be used to select for transformation of the chloro- notifications and permits in the US in 2001 and 2002 plast genome. The promoter Prrn, which is the strong shows that nptII is the most widely used selectable constitutive promoter of the rRNA operon, was fused marker in transgenic crops (It is found in transcriptionally to the 5 untranslated region and the many of the crops currently approved for commercial first five codons of the rbcL gene ( production (International regulatory agen- The efficiency of selection is about 3–20-fold lower cies have approved the commercial release of geneti- than with the aadA gene (see below) as the toxicity of cally modified oilseed rape, corn, potato, tomato, flax, kanamycin to plant cells does not allow sufficient time chicory and cotton containing the nptII gene ( for the transplastome to replicate and distribute over B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 several cell divisions Eventually, amplification of the inserted nptII gene will achieve aminoglycoside-N-acetyl transferases (AAC) are an- 10,000 copies per cell and accumulate NPTII up to other class of aminoglycoside-modifying enzyme 1% of total soluble protein ( with potential to act as plant selectable marker genes(reviewed by Two of these enzymes, AAC(3)-III and AAC(3)-IV, have been examined in B is an aminocyclitol antibiotic inhibitor of pro- petunia and Arabidopsis under the control of the 35S tein synthesis with a broad spectrum activity against promoter and nos 3 sequences prokaryotes and eukaryotes. In plants, the antibiotic These enzymes acetylate gentamicin, kanamycin, to- is very toxic. The E. coli gene aphIV (hph, hpt), cod- bramycin, neomycin and paromomycin. AAC(3)-IV ing for hygromycin B phosphotransferase (HPT, E.C.
additionally modifies apramycin and G418. Both, confers resistance on bacteria, fungi, ani- genes conferred high levels of resistance to gentam- mal cells and plant cells (discussed in icin in petunia; however, the level of cross resistance to kanamycin by AAC(3)-IV was marginal hygromycin B via an ATP-dependent phosphoryla- The gene was effective in a variety of tion of a 7-hydroxyl group. Chimeric genes have plants including Brassica napus, Nicotiana tabacum been shown to be effective in selection with diverse plant species, including dicots, monocots and gym- Another enzyme that acetylates the 6 amino group, enzyme has been used as a selectable marker when from Shigella sp., yielded efficient selection of nptII was not found to be effective ( transformed tobacco protoplasts on high levels of kanamycin The gene, 6 gat, Hygromycin B is the second most frequently used under the control of the 35S promoter, is therefore a antibiotic for selection after kanamycin; for instance, functional alternative to the nptII gene.
a sampling of publications in 2002 revealed that itwas used in 19–31% of the papers in which transgenic plants were generated for research purposes ( Consistent with this observation is that HPT is the the third class of enzymes that modify the amino- second most prevalent antibiotic selectable marker glycoside antibiotics that can be used as plant se- listed in the US field trials data base lectable marker genes (reviewed by The bacterial aadA gene codes for the enzymeaminoglycoside-3-adenyltransferase. When driven by the 35S promoter, the aadA gene conferred re- ing for streptomycin phosphotransferase (SPT, APH sistance to spectinomycin and streptomycin in N. [3], E.C. comes from the bacterial trans- tabacum; however, the selection was for the contrast poson, Tn5 (A mutant form between green tissue and chlorotic tissue rather than of SPT, containing a two amino acid deletion near for survival and growth (). Simi- the carboxy-terminus of the protein, was placed under lar results were obtained with white clover ( the control of the T-DNA transcript 2 promoter and and with maize (This introduced into N. tabacum. Transformed calli were gene has not been broadly adopted as a nuclear se- selected in the presence of streptomycin. As strepto- lectable marker gene for the production of transgenic mycin causes bleaching rather than cell death, trans- plants. However, it is the most widely used selectable formed tissue was recognized as green tissue. The ef- marker for plastid transformation. When combined ficiency of transformation using this streptomycin re- with spectinomycin selection, plastid transformation sistance marker was comparable to the nptII gene un- frequencies in tobacco may approach the levels of der control of the nos promoter nuclear transformation ( This marker system has not been adopted for general The aadA gene is found in several transgenic lines approved for commercialization (but it is B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 under the control of a bacterial promoter, not a plant transformation of potato cv Russet Burbank because promoter. It was used as a selectable marker during of inefficiencies and abnormalities associated with bacterial cloning and not for the selection of trans- other selection systems (In the Mediterranean, where parasitic weeds such as broom-rape (Orobanche spp.) are a constraint to production, 2.2.2. Bleomycin resistance resistance to the sulfonamide asulam may allow the Phleomycin and Bleomycin are novel antibiotics use of sulfonamides as a herbicide ( that belong to the bleomycin family of glycopeptidesthat act by site-specific, single- and double-stranded 2.2.4. Streptothricin acetyltransferase DNA cleavage (discussed in Streptothricins produced by Streptomyces spp. are Interestingly, strand cleavage does not antimicrobial agents that consist of gulosamine, strep- appear to generate mutations when applied to plants.
tolidin and a peptide chain of 1–6 residues (reviewed Bleomycin interferes with tobacco plant regenera- in They inhibit protein syn- tion through morphogenesis (Two thesis by binding to the ribosomal small subunit.
sources of resistance have been described for plants: The E. coli sat3 gene codes for an acetyl transferase the resistance gene found on E. coli transposon Tn5 activity that inactivates streptothricins. When con- and a chromosomal gene of Streptoalloteichus hin- trolled by the 35S promoter the sat gene acted as dustanus (When a selectable marker gene in a variety of dicot plant expressed at high levels from the 35S promoter, both genes yield high levels of resistance to phleomycin 2.2.5. Chloramphenicol acetyltransferase and regeneration of tobacco plants ( Chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (E.C., So far, this system does not appear to have CAT) from E. coli Tn9 has been used for the selection been widely adopted.
of tobacco transformants with the cat gene driven bythe nos promoter (Selection 2.2.3. Mutant dihydropteroate synthase on chloramphenicol was much less efficient than se- A large number of sulfonamides or sulfa drugs exist lection on kanamycin conferred by the nptII gene.
as antimicrobial compounds that inhibit the enzyme di- The inefficiency has limited the use of the cat gene hydropteroate synthase (DHPS, E.C. DHPS as a selectable marker; however, the sensitive assay catalyzes a rate limiting step for folic acid synthesis for enzyme activity enhanced its use as a reporter in bacteria and plants (discussed in gene for transformation events in early studies. This Resistance is encoded by sul enzyme is no longer widely used as a reporter gene.
genes on bacterial R plasmids (discussed in Only four occurrences of the CAT selectable marker The resistance gene sulI from plasmid in plants were found in the database of US field trial R46 codes for a mutant form of DHPS that is resis- notifications The most recent of these tant to inhibition by the sulfonamides. To be effective notifications was in 1992 indicating that this marker is in plants, the enzyme must be targeted to the chloro- no longer widely used. Three of the four notifications plast. For example, cleavage of the transit peptide list NPTII as the selectable marker in addition to CAT.
sequence of the pea ribulose bisphosphate carboxy- The CAT gene controlled by the nos promoter lase/oxygenase gene fused to the sulI gene, results has also been introduced in the tobacco chloroplast in the deposition of the enzyme into the chloroplast genome by Agrobacterium-mediated transformation stroma. Effective selection and regeneration of tobacco under selection with chloramphenicol ( were demonstrated when this construct was expressed using the 35S promoter. The selection system differsfrom the others described so far in that the mechanism 2.3. Conditional-positive selection systems using is a mutation of the enzyme resulting in resistance rather than detoxification of the antibiotic by the en-zyme. Interestingly, the chimeric sulI gene described Like antibiotics, herbicides act on a variety of spe- above is one of the few alternatives to nptII for the cific target sites within plants. The sources of genes B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 used to achieve selection on herbicides range from subsequently found to be an excellent bacterial to plant in origin (Some of the selectable marker for many species including maize plant genes code for enzymes in essential metabolic and biosynthetic pathways. At least two mechanisms are employed to achieve resistance. One mechanism legumes (and conifers ( uses the resistance found in natural isozymes or gen- The bar gene is particularly useful in erated by enzyme mutagenesis, and the second in- plants, such as orchids, that are naturally tolerant to volves detoxification of the herbicide by metabolic processes. Selection with antibiotics and herbicides Expression of the bar gene in the tobacco plastid is similar in that both categories of agents are toxic genome yielded field levels of resistance to PPT; how- to non-transformed plant cells and transformed plant ever, direct selection for transplastomic plants using cells are provided with mechanisms that allow them bar was not successful indicating that the compart- to escape the toxicity.
ment, in which PAT is located, is essential for selec-tion on PPT ( 2.3.1. Phosphinothricin N-acetyltransferase or In samples of research papers published in bialophos resistance gene 2002, the bar gene was the most extensively-used The l-isomer of phosphinothricin (PPT; glufosi- herbicide-resistance selectable marker gene (4–31%).
nate ammonium) is the active ingredient of several The level of use was similar to that of the hpt gene, commercial broad spectrum herbicide formulations which confers resistance to the antibiotic hygromycin (e.g. BastaTM, IgniteTM, LibertyTM). An analogue of B (l-PPT tolerance is also being extensively l-glutamic acid, PPT is a competitive inhibitor of used in plants undergoing transgenic field trials. For glutamine synthetase (GS) which is the only enzyme example, in the years 2001 and 2002 alone, 327 that can catalyse the assimilation of ammonia into records containing the enzyme PAT were listed in the glutamic acid in plants. Inhibition of glutamine syn- US field trial database (From thetase ultimately results in the accumulation of toxic the records in the database, it is evident that a variety ammonia levels resulting in plant cell death ( of companies and researchers are using PAT in their Two sources of resistance have been described. Ele- l-PPT tolerant plants containing the pat or bar vation of GS expression levels using strong promoters genes have been deemed safe by various international will confer resistance to PPT (but government regulatory agencies for unconfined release this approach has not been adopted for commercial and food and livestock feed use applications. Secondly, bacterial acetyltransferases B. napus L. line HCN92, which contains the that confer resistance to bialophos (consisting of two pat gene, was the first transgenic l-PPT tolerant plant l-alanine residues and PPT) have been used in plants to receive government approval Since to achieve resistance to herbicides that contain PPT.
then other l-PPT tolerant lines including oilseed rape, Two genes (pat and bar) encoding the enzyme phos- maize, chicory and sugar beet lines have received phinothricin N-acetyltransferase (PAT) have been used approval for commercialization ( to confer tolerance to l-PPT in transgenic plants. Thebar (bialophos resistance) gene from S. hygroscopi- cus (and the pat gene from and glyphosate oxidase S. viridochromogenes ) are Glyphosate (N-[phosphonomethyl]glycine) is a 87% similar at the nucleotide level. PAT uses acetyl broad-spectrum herbicide that is the active in- CoA as a cofactor to catalyze the acetylation of the gredient of the commercial Roundup® formula- free amino group of l-PPT. The acetylated form of tions. It acts as an inhibitor of the plastid enzyme l-PPT is unable to bind to and inactivate glutamine 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSP synthetase. The bar gene driven by plant promoters synthase, E.C. which is essential in the shiki- was shown to be an effective selectable marker gene mate pathway for the biosynthesis of the aromatic in Brassica napus and Brassica oleracea ( amino acids. A number of mechanisms for glyphosate B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 resistance have been described. Examples include the confers resistance to glyphosate when expressed in following: over expression of a petunia EPSP synthase the chloroplast genome; however, the transplastomic gene using the 35S promoter generated glyphosate plants were selected using antibiotic resistance tolerance in transformed petunia ( Generally, selection on glyphosate has expression of mutant forms of the EPSP synthase gene not been adopted broadly for basic research involving aroA from Salmonella typhimurium ( transgenic plants or E. coli targeted The use of EPSP synthase (and GOX) in transgenic to chloroplasts, conferred glyphosate resistance to plants has undergone extensive safety evaluations tobacco; a naturally-glyphosate-resistant EPSP syn- thase gene from the A. tumefaciens strain CP4 ( plants, which contain glyphosate resistance as ei- fused to the transit peptide sequence of ther an agronomic trait or a selectable marker, have Arabidopsis EPSP synthase for chloroplast targeting received approval for commercialization ( has conferred glyphosate resistance to several crop These include Roundup Ready® canola, corn, soy- species (catabolism of bean and cotton. The goxv247 gene no longer appears glyphosate to glyoxylate and aminomethylphosphonic to be used in crop development. Of the commercially acid (AMPA) by bacterial glyphosate oxidoreduc- grown Roundup Ready® crops, only Roundup Ready® tase (GOX) targeted to the chloroplast has conferred canola contains both the cp4 epsps and goxv 247 glyphosate resistance to several different plants ( genes. A search of the information available on the US field trials database did not reveal any public records The GOX gene from Ochrobactrum anthropi strain after 1998 containing GOX However, LBAA has been modified to improve expression in the epsps gene is still widely used, mostly to confer plants and fused to the transit peptide sequence of Ara- glyphosate resistance. In 2001 and 2002, 507 records bidopsis ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase small sub- containing EPSPS were found in the US field trials unit gene, SSU1A-CTP1 for transport to the chloro- database, which includes the use of the EPSP synthase to confer herbicide tolerance and/or as a selectable It has been used as a selectable marker (The overwhelming majority of these marker in tobacco, Arabidopsis, potato and sugarbeet notifications were from Monsanto ( (GOX was ineffective asa selectable marker in maize although the regener- 2.3.3. Acetolactate synthase or acetohydroxyacid ated plant had resistance to glyphosate ( GOX has been used as a selectable marker in Acetolactate synthase, also known as acetohydrox- conjunction with EPSPS that has been fused to the yacid synthase (ALS, AHAS: E.C., is the tar- transit peptide sequence of Arabidopsis EPSP syn- get for several classes of herbicides including the sul- thase for chloroplast targeting. In Roundup-Ready® fonylureas, imidazolinones, triazolopyrimidines and canola, a variant of the GOX gene from Ochrobac- pyrimidinyl thiobenzoates ( trum anthropi strain LBAA (goxv247) and the cp4 ALS is a regulatory enzyme in the biosynthetic path- epsps gene are linked on a single T-DNA to achieve way to branched-chain amino acids in chloroplasts and glyphosate resistance (Monsanto 2003). Direct selec- it is encoded by a limited number of nuclear genes de- tion for glyphosate resistance using the gox and cp4 pending on the plant species. ALS genes are amenable epsps genes have been demonstrated, for instance, in to mutation and yield mutant enzymes that are resistant wheat (The cp4 epsps gene alone to one or more of the herbicides that act on ALS. Many has been shown to be effective in soybean of the specific sites have been mapped for ALS genes functional in maize ( (Several plant mutants have been isolated directly through mutagenesis and selection synthase gene, altered by site-directed mutagenesis strategies; for example, imidazolinone-resistant B. na- to increase tolerance to glyphosate, was shown to pus, which is in production in Canada ( be very effective as a selectable marker gene for In general, herbicide resistant maize (The cp4 epsps gene also forms of ALS differ by only one or two amino acids B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 from the native form. Selection for sulfonylurea and marker genes (The gene is imidazolinone resistance is very efficient and was used therefore another example of a herbicide-resistance to demonstrate targeted modifications of endogenous selectable marker gene.
ALS from wild-type to herbicide resistance form us- A complete safety assessment of the use of the bxn ing chimeric RNA/DNA oligonucleotides. This was gene in transgenic plants has led to the regulatory achieved with tobacco () and approval for the commercialization of at least three maize generating plants with tar- transgenic lines containing the bxn gene. In canola geted mutations that were not transgenic (i.e. foreign line Oxy-235, bromoxynil was used as the only se- DNA sequences were not integrated into the plant lective agent during transformation. This line was approved for environmental release and for food and It is therefore not surprising that mutant forms of livestock feed in Canada in 1997 ( plant ALS would act as effective selectable marker It is the parental genes when combined with sulfonylurea or imida- line for commercial NavigatorTM canola varieties zolinone herbicides. Selection of transgenic tobacco (Two cotton lines contain the bnx plants on sulfonylureas in culture was shown with a gene but the nptII gene was used as the selectable mutant Arabidopsis gene, csr 1-1 ( marker No public records for the nitrilase and direct selection under enzyme as a selectable marker were listed in the US greenhouse conditions was demonstrated for B. napus field trials database in 2001 or 2002 suggesting that it canola (A mutant form of the maize is not widely used ALS gene was found to be very efficient in the selec-tion of transgenic maize in culture from embryogenic cells (A mutant Arabidopsis ALS Gabaculine (3-amino-2,3-dihydrobenzoic acid) is gene that confers resistance to imidazolinones was a bacterial phototoxin that inhibits a wide range of used to recover transgenic soybean from cultured api- pyridoxal-5-phosphate-linked aminotransferases. A cal meristems, which accumulate the imidazolinone, mutant form of glutamate-1-semialdehyde amino- transferase (GSA-AT, E.C. encoded by the Several lines of genetically modified carnation ap- hemL gene, was discovered in a gabaculine-resistant proved for commercialization were developed using the ALS encoding mutant gene surB from tobacco GR6. The hemL gene, expressed at very high levels in as a selectable marker (Five public tobacco using the double 35S promoter and targeted records containing ALS or AHAS were listed in the to chloroplasts with the transit peptide of the ribu- US field trials database for the years 2001 and 2002 lose bisphosphate carboxylase small subunit, yielded suggesting that this gene is not being widely adopted green transformed tissue that could be distinguished as a selectable marker system ( from chlorotic untransformed tissue (Seedlings also segregated as green and white 2.3.4. Bromoxynil nitrilase phenotypes (). It was suggested that the system may be used to develop a chloroplast selection system but no experiments were presented.
(3,5-diiodo-4-hydroxybenzonitrile), are inhibitors ofphotosystem II electron transport that are active in 2.3.6. Cyanamide hydratase many plants but not in monocots. A nitrilase enzyme Cyanamide is a nitrile derivative that in its aque- ous or calcium salt forms can be used as a fertilizer.
E.C., coded by the bnx gene from Klebsiella It has the additional characteristic of acting as a pneumoniae subspecies ozanaenae, hydrolyzes bro- non-persistent herbicide when applied prior to seed moxynil into 3,5-dibromo-4-dihydroxybenzoic acid germination. The gene cah coding for the enzyme and ammonia. The bnx gene has been shown to con- cyanamide hydratase (urea hydrolase; E.C. fer resistance to bromoxynil in tobacco ( has been isolated from the soil fungus Myrothecium and B. napus without using other selectable B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 hydratase catalyzes the hydration of the nitrile group specific for betaine aldehyde and converts it to glycine of cyanamide to form urea, which can be used for betaine, which accumulates in a few crop species as plant growth. The enzyme has an extremely narrow an osmoprotectant. The enzyme is nuclear encoded substrate specificity. The use of cyanamide hydratase but is transported to the chloroplast, which is the site as a selectable marker has been demonstrated in wheat of action. Expression in tomato allowed the direct selection and regeneration of plants in the presence potato, tomato, rice and Arabidopsis ( of betaine aldehyde at efficiencies lower than that of A search of the US field trials database shows the nptII gene that cyanamide hydratase has also been used in The enzyme is well suited as a chloroplast selectable sorghum and soybean marker gene. It is 25-fold more efficient than specti-nomycin resistance conferred by the aadA gene and 2.4. Conditional-positive selection systems using acts much faster (Homoplasty toxic metabolic intermediates, analogues and drugs was achieved in the transplastomic tobacco plants andthey were morphologically normal. BADH appears to Enzymes acting in a wide range of metabolic path- be a good alternative to the use of antibiotic resis- ways in plants can be targets for inhibitors or drugs tance marker genes for the production of transplas- (Furthermore, sources of resistance may be tomic plants.
found in diverse organisms as discussed for the her-bicides. The manipulation of metabolic and biosyn- 2.4.3. Dihydrodipicolinate synthase and aspartate thetic pathways can potentially alter the composition and form of the transgenic plants. This has been re- The aspartate family pathway, which leads to the ported in some but not all cases. The research and biosynthesis of lysine, threonine, methionine and assessment of these selectable marker genes has not isoleucine, is regulated by a number of feedback progressed to the level of the major antibiotic and loops. Key enzymes, such as aspartate kinase, are herbicide-resistance marker genes.
feedback-inhibited by lysine and threonine (LT). Di-hydrodipicolinate synthase is inhibited by lysine or its toxic analogue S-aminoethyl l-cysteine (AEC), which The glucose analogue, 2-deoxyglucose (2-DOG), competes with lysine in protein synthesis. Growth in is phosphorylated by hexokinase to form 2-DOG-6- the presence of lysine and threonine causes methio- nine starvation due to inhibition of the pathway and glucose-6-phosphate causing cell death through the results in strong inhibition of growth. The enzymes inhibition of glycolysis. The yeast gene DOGR1, cod- from E. coli are less sensitive to feedback inhibition.
ing for 2-deoxyglucose-6-phosphate phosphatase, was When controlled by the 35S promoter, E. coli enzyme placed under the control of the 35S promoter. Use constructs yielded transgenic potato plants with very of this construct as a selectable marker gene resulted few escapes on selection with LT for aspartate ki- in the selection of transgenic tobacco plants at lower nase and AEC for dihydrodipicolinate synthase ( efficiencies than with the nptII gene and the selec- One of the potential drawbacks is that the tion of transgenic potato with comparable efficiencies overproduction of lysine or threonine resulting from (The selection system was also the modification of metabolism causes abnormalities demonstrated in pea ( Abnormalities were not observed in the plants pre-sumably due to the narrow substrate specificity of the 2.4.4. Octopine synthase Potential pathways for the detoxification of the ly- sine analogue, AEC, may involve the enzyme, oc- 2.4.2. Aldehyde dehydrogenase topine synthase or lysopine dehydrogenase. The gene Small aldehydes, such as betaine aldehyde, are for this enzyme is part of the T-DNA component of phytotoxic to many plant cells. The spinach enzyme, the Agrobacterium tumefaciens octopine Ti plasmids.
betaine aldehyde dehydrogenase (BADH), is highly The enzyme converts pyruvate and lysine into lysopine B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 and appears to metabolize AEC to carboxyethyl-AEC.
opments and limited in number as shown in Callus tissues that express the enzyme appear to be This category differs significantly from the previously 20-fold more tolerant to AEC ( discussed systems in that the external substrates are Selective growth of callus on AEC was shown in basically inert until they are converted into molecules preliminary experiments with petunia stem explants that provide the transformed plant cells with a growth advantage. This approach appears to yield generallyhigher transformation frequencies and seems to be 2.4.5. Tryptophan decarboxylase broadly applicable across a range of plant species In Catharanthus roseus, tryptophan decarboxy- making it is an area of major interest for crop plants.
lase (TDC; E.C. is an enzyme in the The systems described so far use bacterial genes terpenoid indole alkaloid pathway that converts as selectable markers that act on fundamental plant l-tryptophan into tryptamine. Another substrate of metabolic pathways. Currently, the information is not TDC, 4-methyltryptophan (4-mT), is toxic to plants as extensive as that available for the major antibiotic that do not have TDC activity but will be converted and herbicide resistance genes.
to typtamine in those plants that do have it. Whenthe C. roseus gene coding for TDC was placed under 2.5.1. Xylose isomerase the control of the 35S promoter and introduced into Plant cells from species such as tobacco, potato tobacco, direct selection on 4-mT yielded transgenic and tomato cannot use d-xylose as a sole carbon plants with the same efficiency as the nptII gene source. The enzyme xylose isomerase (d-xylose (). Although the specificity of ketol-isomerase; E.C. catalyzes the isomer- the reaction was considered an advantage, a possible ization of xylose to d-xylulose, which can then be drawback could be the accumulation of tryptamine in used as a carbon source. The xylA genes, coding the transformed plants ( for xylose isomerase from Streptomyces rubiginosus(and Thermoanaerobacterium 2.4.6. Dihydrofolate reductase thermosulfurogenes (), have been fused to the enhanced 35S promoter and the  methotrexate (Mtx), bind to the active site of the en- translational enhancer from tobacco mosaic virus for zyme dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR, E.C. testing in transgenic tobacco, potato and tomato as resulting in impaired protein, RNA and DNA biosyn- selectable markers. The efficiency of selection was thesis and subsequently cell death. Plant cells are gen- much greater than for the nptII gene and the regener- erally very sensitive to low levels of Mtx. Sources of ation of shoots was significantly faster. Furthermore, resistant DHFR have been found in the bacterium E. for at least some Solanaceous species, the overall efficiency of transformation was enhanced with both the fungus Candida albicans ( xylA genes. It was suggested that the enzyme from S. and mutant mammalian cells rubiginosus posed no biosafety issues as it is used in Testing in transgenic tobacco and petunia con- the food industry and considered safe ( firmed that these genes could be used for selection of transgenic plants on Mtx. A novel and unexpectedobservation was the finding that the C. albicans gene 2.5.2. Phosphomannose isomerase provided resistance in plants when used with the en- Mannose like xylose is not toxic to plant cells.
dogenous fungal regulatory sequences ( However, mannose will prevent cell growth and de- suggesting that the level of expression required velopment when mannose is converted by hexoki- for resistance with this gene may be very low.
nase to mannose-6-phosphate, which on accumula- 2.5. Conditional-positive selection systems using tion inhibits glycolysis. Phosphomannose isomerase non-toxic metabolic intermediates (PMI; E.C. catalyzes the interconversionof mannose-6-phosphate and fructose-6-phosphate, which allows mannose to become a carbon source.
non-toxic metabolic intermediates are recent devel- Although the enzyme is widely distributed in na- B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 ture, it is absent in many plants although leguminous drolysis by GUS releases benzyladenine which will plants such as soybean have PMI activity ( stimulate shoot regeneration. This process has been Using mannose as the selective agent, shown to be an effective conditional-positive selec- the E. coli manA (pmi) gene under the control of the tion strategy in tobacco ( 35S promoter was found to be an effective selectable The frequency of transformation scored by shoot re- marker. Using this selection system, 10-fold greater generation was much greater than that achieved by transformation frequencies were obtained in sugar the nptII gene in control experiments ( beet (Beta vulgaris L.) compared with the frequencies An added advantage is that the activity obtained using the nptII gene and kanamycin as the of GUS can be used as visual marker without the use selective agent (These dramatic of an additional gene or gene fusion.
results were followed by similar findings in maize,wheat, barley, watermelon (reviewed in 2.6. Non-conditional-positive selection systems and in rice (In all casessignificantly higher transformation frequencies were Positive non-conditional selection systems include observed and very few escapes were found. It is be- new strategies that promote plant regeneration without lieved that the arrest in cell growth of untransformed the use of selective agents. They provide novel oppor- cells by starvation rather than the necrosis induced by tunities to develop new selectable marker genes. An toxic selective agents may contribute to the survival obstacle to the development of this technology is the and growth of the transformed cells and the high lack of knowledge of the genetic and biochemical con- transformation frequencies reported. In some species, trols of plant regeneration through organogenesis and such as cassava, the frequency of transformation was embryogenesis. Presently, information on the mech- lower than that achieved with the hpt gene anisms governing shoot organogenesis and cytokinin signal transduction is greater than for embryogenesis.
The system is being marketed as the PositechTM A number of genes that confer cytokinin-independent selection technique by Syngenta. Safety assessments shoot formation have been discovered (reviewed by have been performed including allergenicity and tox- Some of these may also act as se- lectable markers as described in y include The enzyme was found to be com- genes encoded by the T-DNA region of Agrobac- pletely digested in simulated mammalian gastric and terium Ti and Ri plasmids as well as Arabidopsis intestinal fluids. PMI protein had no adverse effects genes coding for the putative cytokinin receptor, CKI1 on mice following acute oral toxicity studies. Further- more, there appeared to be no changes in the glycopro- tion factor, ESR1 ( tein profiles of transgenic maize or sugar beets. Field The need for genes that control embryogenesis trials conducted on seven independent transformation has been argued by most crops events demonstrated that there were no differences in regenerate through embryogenesis rather than organo- the agronomic performance or grain composition of genesis. Genes that act very early in embryogenesis transgenic maize compared to non-transgenic controls have been discovered using a variety of experimen- tal approaches but experiments to demonstrate theirutility as selectable marker genes have not yet been published. Except for the SOMATIC EMBRYOGE- The enzyme ␤-glucuronidase (GUS, E.C., NESIS RECEPTOR KINASE 1 (SERK1) gene, these encoded by the E. coli uidA (gusA) gene, will genes code for transcription factors that are impor- be discussed later as a non-selectable marker or tant in the control of development. In Arabidopsis reporter gene. GUS catalyses the hydrolysis of the AtSERK1 gene is expressed in the embryo sac ␤-d-glucuronides. The glucuronide substrate has been prior to fertilization and throughout early embryo conjugated with the cytokinin, benzyladenine, to cre- development. Ectopic expression of AtSERK1 from ate benyladenine N-3-glucuronide which does not the 35S promoter increased the efficiency of somatic affect plant growth and differentiation. However, hy- embryogenesis from callus by 3–4-fold ( B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 The Arabidopsis transcription factor LEAFY the first step in cytokinin biosynthesis. When the COTYLEDON 1 (LEC1) is a CCAAT box-binding ipt gene regulated by the 35S promoter is trans- factor HAP3 subunit homolog that appears to play sev- ferred to tobacco, the transformation efficiency mea- eral roles in embryo development. When expressed ec- sured by the regeneration of transformed shoots is topically, it will generate embryos from the vegetative 2.7-fold greater than that achieved by a 35S-nptII leaf cells of germinated seedlings ( gene construct. Moreover, the effectiveness of the It therefore plays a central role in the induction of em- nptII gene as a selectable marker was enhanced bryogenesis; however, plants with normal morphology when it was co-transformed with the 35S-ipt gene were not recovered even with an inducible promoter construct (The observation par- system (LEC2, another B3 domain alleled previously-discussed observations made with transcription factor, also induces somatic embryo de- conditional-positive selection systems that avoid velopment in transgenic Arabidopsis ( toxic selective agents. It appears that the Arabidop- The B. napus transcription factor BABYBOOM sis genome codes for a family of IPT genes that (BBM) is a member of the AP2-domain transcription catalyze similar reactions and generate the same phe- factors that also plays a central role in embryogene- notype when expressed in transgenic plants ( sis. It was isolated from microspores undergoing the They may be effective transition from the pollen to embryo developmental substitutes for the A. tumefaciens ipt gene.
pathways. When expressed at high levels from the 35S The difficulty with this system is that all of the promoter BBM converted the regenerated shoots have abnormal morphologies re- vegetative cells of Arabidopsis and B. napus seedlings sulting from the high endogenous cytokinin levels into somatic embryo-producing cells. Regenerated which include the loss of apical dominance and lack plants expressing very high levels of BBM possessed of roots (i.e. the shooty phenotype). The use of a abnormal morphologies. The Arabidopsis home- ␤-estradiol-inducible, artificial promoter system to odomain transcription factor, WUSCHEL (WUS) was restrict expression of the ipt gene during the selec- a potent inducer of the vegetative-to-embryonic cell tion phase appeared to eliminate these morphologi- transition and is believed to be involved in embryonal cal abnormalities in regenerated tobacco shoots and stem cell formation An interesting plantlets (A high frequency of finding was that WUS appears to play an impor- escapes have been described. They are assumed to tant role in both embryogenesis and the shoot apical result from cytokinins produced in the transformed meristem through separate developmental pathways cells that migrate to non-transformed cells and induce (Further research on the genes that shoot formation (); however, this control plant embryogenesis may soon result in the assumption is uncertain ( development of new selectable marker strategies.
2.6.2. Histidine kinase homologue 2.6.1. Isopentyl transferases Activation tagging of cytokinin-independent genes Organogenesis in vitro occurs in three phases: the identified a potential cytokinin receptor, CKI1 acquisition of competence, determination of organ (When CKI1 was expressed in trans- formation governed by phytohormone balance and genic calli using the 35S promoter, typical cytokinin morphogenesis (For shoot for- responses, such as shoot production and lack of roots, mation in culture, high cytokinin:auxin ratios are were observed without added cytokinin. Subsequent required. Genes that promote this condition endoge- experiments using the ␤-estradiol-inducible promoter nously will enhance regeneration of shoots thus system to express the CKI1 gene in Arabidopsis, providing a novel non-conditional-positive selection yielded calli that produced shoots in the absence of strategy. The enzyme isopentyl transferase (IPT), exogenous cytokinin and in the presence of the in- which is encoded by the T-DNA of A. tumefaciens ducer ␤-estradiol to activate the promoter Ti plasmids, contributes to crown gall formation in On removal from non-inductive media the infected plants. The enzyme catalyzes the synthesis shoots developed into normal plants. Interestingly, of isopentyl-adenosine-5-monophosphate which is no escapes were generated. This contrasts with B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 observations made with the ipt gene where cytokinin genic events where escapes may be common. More- leakage could generate escapes from neighbouring over, they have been used to improve transformation cells. It was suggested that over-expressed CKI1 pro- systems and the efficiency of recovering transgenic tein would not leak to neighbouring cells and the plants by allowing the visual detection of transformed protein as a cytokinin receptor, somehow activated tissues. This may permit the manual selection of trans- the downstream signal transduction pathway without formed tissues prior to the application of selective cytokinin accumulation ( agents to enrich the tissues in transformed cells.
Green fluorescent protein (GFP) has been particu- 2.6.3. Hairy root-inducing genes larly important in the development of these strategies as the assay is non-destructive and simple to apply ates plants with altered morphology (i.e. the hairy (reviewed by Furthermore, GFP has root phenotype) and the responsible rol genes have become a valuable tool for monitoring gene expres- been used in certain plant transformation vectors sion in field trials and for following pollen flow. Other as a selectable marker (reviewed by genes that generate coloured tissues may also be use- Generally, the selection system ful markers and novel ap- has not been extensively used except to monitor the plications can extend their importance. They may be transposition or excision or the marker genes in the used for example, as visible markers for monitoring development of marker-free technologies. This has and identifying transgenic escapes or for generating been largely superceded by the use of the ipt gene sentinel plants for monitoring environmental contam- inants. Reporter genes that can be detected throughother senses, such as taste (e.g. ThaumatinII; or smell, may also be considered. Although de- 3. Non-selectable maker gene systems—reporter
structive assays are needed to measure the activity of reporter genes such as GUS, they have been veryimportant early tools for measuring the activity of 3.1. Background gene regulatory elements in plants and for histochem-ical localization of marker gene expression ( Non-selectable marker genes or reporter genes As a reporter, luciferase (LUC) can be moni- (have been very important as partners to tored in living tissue but this requires specialized de- selectable marker gene systems. They have been used tection equipment (The use of fusion in co-transformation experiments to confirm trans- proteins where the coding region of a reporter gene is Table 10Non-selectable marker genes or reporter genes demonstrated in transgenic plants External substrates Escherichia coli Escherichia coli, Bacillus sp.
Photinus pyralis luxA, B luxF Vibrio harveyi Green fluroescent, Aequorea victoria Phytoene synthase Erwinia herbicola Anthocyanin pathway regulatory factors danielli Benth Oxalate oxidase (OxO) B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 fused in-frame with a second gene of interest has been (). Histochemical localization of particularly useful in these experiments.
gene expression is detectable at the subcellular level, In species where the transformation frequencies are for instance, in plastids (The very high or where novel cell systems are being in- major drawback with the use of GUS as a reporter is vestigated, transgenic plants may be generated and re- that the assays are destructive to the plant cells.
covered without the use of selection systems ( A useful feature of GUS is that it can be fused with Generally, this situation is rare.
other proteins For example, Non-selectable marker genes or reporter genes may GUS fusions with selectable marker genes such as aid in the identification of the transformed cells.
nptII allow the visualization of transformation in addi-tion to selection. The capacity to generate fusions with other proteins has extended the usefulness of GUSfor gene tagging experiments and has resulted in the discovery of novel genomic elements such as cryptic, which is coded by the E. coli lacZ gene, gene regulatory elements ( has been a useful marker gene in many cell sys- tems because it can be easily assayed and can GUS is rapidly degraded under conditions found form N-terminal translational fusions with other in the stomach (Humans proteins. Although some plants have background and animals are continuously exposed to GUS from galactosidase activity, experiments with tobacco bacteria residing in their intestinal tracts and from and sunflower showed that ectopic enzyme activ- non-transgenic food sources without harmful effects; ity could be measured with the synthetic substrate therefore, the low level of GUS protein from geneti- O-nitro-phenyl-␤-d-galacto pyranoside (ONPG) and cally modified plants is not a concern with regard to tissues that express the enzyme will stain with toxicity or allergenicity ( GUS genes have frequently been co-transformed (X-Gal). The lac Z gene is therefore a conditional with selectable marker genes, for example, the bar non-selectable marker gene. The protein does not ap- selectable marker gene, to facilitate the selection of pear to be toxic to plant cells. Since the initial report transformed tissues (GUS expres- on the use of the marker gene in plants sion was used as a reporter to help detect transfor- it has not been widely adopted.
mation events in tissue culture during the productionof a number of plant lines approved for commercial- ization. These lines include Bollgard II® cotton, theglyphosate resistant sugar beet line GTSB77 (variety The bacterial enzyme ␤-glucuronidase, which is InVigorTM), papaya line 55-1, three soybean lines with coded by the E. coli uidA (gusA) gene is the most modified fatty acid content (G94-1, G94-19, G168) widely used reporter in plants. The enzyme utilizes and two PPT tolerant soybean lines (W62 and W68) the external substrates 4-methyl umbelliferyl glu- (With 91 records, GUS is the most frequently curonide (MUG) for measurements of specific activity listed reporter gene in the US field trials database in and 5-bromo-4-chloro-3-indolyl glucuronide (X-gluc) for histological localization It istherefore a conditional non-selectable marker gene.
3.4. Luciferase GUS activity is found widely in microorganisms,vertebrates and invertebrates ( Luciferase (LUC, E.C., as a reporter, but there is very little background activity in plants.
offers several advantages including the capability of The GUS enzyme is very stable within plants and is monitoring gene expression patterns non-destructively non-toxic when expressed at high levels. A secreted, in real time with great sensitivity ( codon optimized form of the Bacillus GUS enzyme, ). For example, this allows the BoGUS, has been developed which is very stable un- continuous monitoring of gene activity during devel- der denaturing conditions and with very high activity opment The firefly (Photinus B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 pyralis) luciferase catalyzes the ATP-dependent ox- transgenic plants The strategy has idative decarboxylation of luciferin. After the reaction been widely used for the nuclear transformation of di- occurs the luciferase is inactive until the oxyluciferin is cots, gymnosperms and cereals (reviewed by released from the enzyme complex. This is a slow pro- It has been adopted as a co-transforming gene cess and the LUC half life is very short; thus, it is be- (and as a gene fusion ( lieved that LUC activity more accurately reflects tran- to enrich for chloroplast transformation scriptional activity than some other reporter genes that which tends to be inefficient in most species.
are more stable and accumulate over time ( GFP has not been extensively used as a reporter Bacterial sources of for studies in the regulation of gene expression or the luciferase (LUX, E.C. isolated from Vibrio study of regulatory elements; however, it has been a harveyi have also been tested successfully in plants very useful tag for monitoring intracellular location (Luciferase is often used with and transport when fused to other proteins of interest.
other marker genes as an internal control and is also Fusions with genes of agronomic importance, such used as a visual marker of transformation for the man- as the cry1Ac gene, have been introduced into canola ual selection of transgenic material undergoing selec- (These studies showed that GFP tion Both luc did not impose a fitness cost to field-grown canola and and lux are conditional non-selectable marker genes.
provided a method to monitor pollen flow to non-target Four public records containing luciferase were plants (The increased use of GFP listed in the US field trials database for the years 2001 as a reporter gene is evident from the US field trials database. Of the 41 reports listed in the database upto the end of 2002, twenty were in 2001 and 2002 3.5. Green fluorescent protein (and all have been since 1998.
The green fluorescent protein (GFP) from jelly- 3.6. Phytoene synthase fish (Aequorea victoria) has become a powerful re-porter gene to complement selectable marker genes The bacterial gene coding for phytoene synthase and can be used to select for transformed material from Erwinia herbicola can act as a non-conditional reporter gene by altering the carotenoid biosynthetic ber of sequence variants have been generated by mu- pathway in chloroplasts so that coloured carotenoids tation or codon optimization to enhance activity, sta- accumulate. The coloured tissues expressing the re- bility and detection (reviewed by The porter gene can then be manually removed and cul- great advantage of GFP as a non-conditional reporter tured to generate transgenic plants. Phytoene synthase is the direct visualization of GFP in living tissue in real catalyses the synthesis of phytoene from geranylger- time without invasive procedures such as the applica- anyl pyrophosphate and phytoene is a precursor of ly- tion or penetration of cells with substrate and products copene, the carotenoid that imparts the red colour to that may diffuse within or among cells. Both consid- tomato. E. herbicola phytoene synthase targeted to the erations provide a significant improvement over GUS chloroplast, generated transgenic orange callus as a and LUC as reporter genes. As GFP does not appear to visual marker for transgenic tissue at about 50% effi- have any cytotoxic effects on plant cells, it is possible ciency and may be used to monitor transgenic plants to identify cells in which GFP is expressed shortly af- ter transformation and to assess whether the cells aredividing This is particularly im- 3.7. Maize R, C1 and B transcription factors portant for species, such as the cereals, that have beendifficult to transform. GFP allows the manual removal The maize R, C1, P1 and B transcription factor of the transformed tissues to enrich them prior to the genes regulate the anthocyanin biosynthetic pathways application of selection pressure with herbicides or an- in specific plant tissues. Ectopic expression of R or tibiotics. This increases the efficiency of transforma- B initiated the non-selective accumulation of antho- tion (reduces the time for producing cyanins in plant cells raising the potential use of B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 the transcription factors as non-conditional reporter marker-free transgenic plants, all are more difficult genes that do not require the application of external to implement or are less efficient than procedures substrates or destructive assays ( which leave the marker genes in the plant. Presently, ). Although the R, C1 and B sufficient data has been accumulated to indicate transcription factor genes showed promise as visible that co-transformation of non-selected genes with markers for optimizing transformation methods, ex- selectable marker genes followed by rounds of seg- pression of the genes was toxic to transformed cells regation will create marker-free plants. However, this (and expression was subject to process is labor intensive requiring the production of environmental stimuli (The sys- several fold more transgenic plants to isolate the plant tem has therefore not been extensively adopted as a of interest and further crossing steps after the initial marker gene system.
transformation experiment. Furthermore, the strategyis not suitable for vegetatively-propagated species.
3.8. Oxalate oxidase For vegetatively-propagated species the use of trans-posons or homologous recombination to eliminate the Oxalate oxidase (OxO: E.C. activity has a marker genes may work but at very low efficiency.
narrow range of expression in cereals and appears to The use of transposons to reposition genes into a sta- be absent in dicots. The wheat gene coding for OxO ble chromosomal location may provide an advantage can function as a conditional reporter gene for mono- for certain applications. Currently, the research area cot and dicot species (The as- of greatest promise is the use of site-specific recom- say depends on the relatively inexpensive substrates, binases under the control of inducible promoters to oxalic acid and 4-chloro-1-naphthol and permits rapid excise the selectable marker genes and excision ma- histochemical localization of enzyme activity. Quanti- chinery once selection has been achieved ( tative measurements of OxO enzyme activity can also Concerns exist about pleiotropic effects induced by be performed.
the action of recombinases on cryptic excision sitesin the plant genomes, but the use of inducible pro-moters may limit the extent of damage. Presently, 4. Marker-free strategies
many of these processes are experimental and insuffi-cient information is available to rate the commercial 4.1. Background significance of the technologies.
The rationalization for creating marker-free trans- 4.2. Co-transformation and segregation of marker genic plants has been discussed in detail in several reviews (or commercialization of trans- Co-transformation involves the simultaneous deliv- genic plants it would simplify the regulatory process ery and integration of two or more separate genes. This and improve consumer acceptance to remove gene se- may result in linkage of the genes at a single locus as quences that are not serving a purpose in the final plant often occurs with biolistic-mediated transformation or variety. For scientific purposes, eliminating the marker it may result in independently-segregating, unlinked genes from the final plant would permit the use of ex- loci, as often occurs with Agrobacterium-mediated perimental marker genes that have not undergone ex- transformation. Co-transformation provides unique tensive biosafety evaluations or that may generate neg- advantages for the production of transgenic plants. It ative pleiotropic effects in the plants. Furthermore, it allows the simultaneous insertion of a large number would permit the recycling of useful marker genes for of genes, independent of gene sequence, into a plant recurrent transformation of transgenic plants if they with a limited number of selectable marker genes. For were eliminated prior to the next round of transforma- example, in rice, two to thirteen transgenes have been simultaneously inserted using biolistics ( Although a number of strategies have been de- ). The co-transformation fre- scribed in the scientific literature for generating quencies were very high, for example, 85% in the R0 B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 generation for at least two genes ( of the genes and therefore the recovery of marker-free 17% of R0 plants contained more than nine different plants. When compared to methods that produce plants transgenes (As the co-transformed where the marker gene is linked to the gene of in- genes integrated at a single locus they segregated to- terest, this method requires about a four-fold greater gether. Similar results were obtained in soybean production of transgenic lines to recover a comparable The high incidence of linkage using number of marker-free plants biolistic-mediated transformation would be importantfor the manipulation of multi-genic traits using cloned 4.2.2. Co-transformation with single plasmids genes but would be impractical for the elimination of carrying multiple T-DNA regions marker genes from transgenic plants.
An alternative approach for co-transformation pro- An advantage of Agrobacterium-mediated co- posed by the use of octopine transformation technologies over biolistic transfor- strains with binary vectors that carry more than one mation is that co-transformed genes often integrate T-DNA region. They demonstrated that this approach into different loci in the plant genome. Unlinked se- yields higher frequencies of co-transformation than lectable marker genes can then be segregated away mixtures of A. tumefaciens strains carrying sepa- from the genes of interest and allow the production of rate vectors. In this study, the GUS and hpt genes marker-free transgenic plants (reviewed by co-transformed tobacco and rice with about 50% This technology is not useful for plants frequency at unlinked loci permitting segregation that reproduce vegetatively as segregation is essential of the GUS gene from the hpt selectable marker to for the separation of the marker genes from the genes create marker-free plants. Although it is believed of interest.
that the interaction between the bacterial and plantcells is the major factor influencing transformation 4.2.1. Co-transformation with separate plasmids in efficiency (), it was recently one or two agrobacterium strains found that the relative size of the co-transforming T-DNA has a major impact non-selected genes with selectable marker genes has Co-transformation frequencies of 100% were been demonstrated at relatively high frequencies in achieved in tobacco when the selected T-DNA was a variety of dicot and cereal species. This has been two-fold larger than the non-selected T-DNA. The demonstrated in a number of ways. Two separate elevation of co-transformation efficiency to practi- strains of A. tumefaciens ( cal levels has been demonstrated ( or A. rhizogenes ( In maize, co-transformation with an octopine ave been shown to co-transform tobacco strain carrying a binary vector with two T-DNAs and/or tomato at frequencies of about 50% or bet- yielded co-transformation frequencies of 93% for the ter. The T-DNA insertions were generally unlinked; bar and GUS genes in the R0 generation. 64% of the however, co-transformation of B. napus with nopaline R1 progeny segregated as bar-free plants expressing strains of A. tumefaciens resulted in a higher than GUS (). This contrasted dramat- expected occurrence of linked insertions indicating ically with the 11.7% co-transformation frequency that variations in plants and strains could alter link- with mixed Agrobacterium strains ( age relationships ).
In barley, a similar approach with more com- The tendency towards multiple T-DNA insertions pact vectors yielded 66% co-transformation frequen- by nopaline strains may contribute to these observa- cies but only 24% of these segregated as marker-free tions although the mechanisms involved are unknown plants perhaps because nopaline strains were required for barley transformation ).
Using a single octopine A. tumefaciens strain con- The studies clearly demonstrate that marker-free taining two separate binary vectors, co-transformation plants can be generated at varying efficiencies using frequencies of >50% were obtained in tobacco and B. napus for the GUS gene and nptII selectable marker by segregation of the genes in the subsequent sexual gene. Insertions at different loci allowed segregation generations. This technology is not suitable for all B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 plant species and its efficiency is clearly dependent on ited use in plants that are vegetatively propagated or a number of variables including the Agrobacterium have a long reproductive cycle. This technology also strain used and the plant tissue being transformed.
has limitations for pyramiding multiple genes becauseintroduction of the transposase in subsequent rounds 4.3. Transposon-mediated repositioning of genes of transformation and marker gene removal may resultin the transposition of the first transgene into another 4.3.1. Tranposition-mediated repositioning of the gene of interest The maize Ac/Ds transposable element system has 4.3.2. Tranposition-mediated elimination of the been used to create novel T-DNA vectors for sep- selectable marker gene arating genes that are linked together on the same An alternative strategy for exploiting the Ac/Ds sys- T-DNA after insertion into plants. Once integrated tem is to transpose the genes coding for the selectable into the plant genome, the expression of the Ac trans- marker and the transposase from the T-DNA leaving posase from within the T-DNA can induce the trans- only the gene of interest in the inserted copy of the position of the gene of interest from the T-DNA to T-DNA. This research generated the ipt-type MAT another chromosomal location. This results in the sep- (multi-auto-transformation) vector system which uses aration of the gene of interest from the T-DNA and the ipt gene as a selectable marker and is designed to selectable marker gene. The system is functional in a remove the ipt gene after transformation by using the wide range of plants. It only requires the activity of Ac transposable element. This vector system supports the Ac transposase which can be expressed from plant recurrent transformation for the pyrimiding of genes promoters to enhance activity ( and the approximately 200 bp terminal repeat target Transgenic tobacco and hybrid aspen were trans- sequences which must surround the gene to be trans- formed using the ipt gene as the selectable marker posed (Although the cre- (The ipt gene was interesting ation of marker-free transgenic plants is one outcome, in this study as it was used as both a negative and the repositioning of the gene of interest within the positive selectable marker. In the first positive selec- genome can also result in favourable position effects tion step, transformed tissue proliferated as adventi- that can enhance the expression profile of the gene of tious shooty material that was abnormal in morphol- interest without creating more transformation events.
ogy and could not regenerate due to the overproduction In tomato, transposition of the GUS marker gene and of cytokinin. In the second negative selection step, af- the generation of nptII-free plants was demonstrated ter several weeks or months in culture, normal shoots for plants with both single and multiple T-DNA in- appeared (due to the elimination of the ipt and trans- sertions (In rice, a related posase genes by transposition) and regenerated into approach was used to create hpt-free rice plants that transformed marker-free plants. This occurred at a fre- expressed the Bt endotoxin coded by the cry 1B gene quency of about 5%. As the system does not require a (In this study, the cry1B gene sexual reproduction step, it is an alternative for vege- was placed in the leader sequence of a gfp marker tatively propagated germplasm and plants with a long gene so that transposition could be monitored by the reproductive cycle activation of GFP activity. It was found that excisionand reinsertion occurred at very high frequencies (37 4.4. Intrachromosomal homologous recombination and 25%) and plants were recovered with high lev- to remove selectable marker genes els of resistance to striped stem borer The stability of the transposed gene seems to Studies on the use of homologous recombination to include a tendency to less gene silencing as shown for eliminate selectable marker genes after insertion are a transposed bar gene in barley few and presently poorly understood. The 352 bp at- This technology relies on crossing plants to segre- tachment P (attP) region of bacteriophage ␭ is the tar- gate the gene of interest from the marker gene and get for three specific proteins that mediate the inte- the transposase; therefore, this technology is of lim- gration and excision of the phage within the E. coli B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 genome. In tobacco the attP region appears to func- (Furthermore, the constitutive tion without the proteins to effect excision of DNA overexpression of Cre has been correlated with phe- sequences flanked by the attP repeats ( notypic aberrations in plants ( Transgenic tobacco shoots transformed with a Solutions to this potential problem included the use T-DNA vector in which the gene of interest was sepa- of inducible promoters (reviewed by rated from the region carrying the marker genes nptII, or transient expression strategies to limit ex- gfp and tms 2 by attP repeats were examined in the pression of the recombinase ( presence of naphthalene acetamide (NAM). The tms acting on nuclear genes. Selectable markers have also 2 gene from A. tumefaciens codes for an enzyme that been successfully removed from plastids using the converts NAM to the auxin NAA, which prevents root Cre–lox system ( development and induces callus production The regeneration of roots under this counter selec- 4.5.1. Cre–lox tion strategy was indicative of marker gene elimina- The Cre–lox system from bacteriophage P1 was tion by intrachromosomal homologous recombination.
the first of the recombination systems shown to be This strategy is not always associated with homolo- effective in the generation of marker-free plants.
gous recombination and larger deletions may occur as The T-DNA vector carrying the gene of interest was a result of illegitimate recombination constructed with lox sites flanking the hpt selectable marker gene and inserted into tobacco. The Cre re-combinase was then introduced by a second round 4.5. Site-specific recombinase-mediated excision of of transformation to achieve precise excision of the marker genes marker gene This was subse-quently confirmed with other plants and other marker Several simple bacterial and fungal recombination genes. To avoid the introduction of marker genes systems have been described in which single enzymes along with the Cre gene, it was found that transient (e.g. Cre, FLP, R) acting on specific target sequences expression of the Cre-gene construct without selec- (lox, FRT, RS, respectively) have been adapted tion was sufficient to yield enough Cre recombinase for use in plants (reviewed by to create a small number of lines (0.25%) that were Each of the target sites is similar free of selectable markers and the Cre gene ( in that short oligonucleotides surrounded by short A significant refinement of the strat- inverted repeats determine the orientation of the tar- egy was developed using the ␤-estradiol-inducible get site. Recombinase-mediated DNA rearrangements promoter system in which an artificial transcription can include site-specific excision, integration, inver- factor, XVE was constructed for use in plants with sion and interchromosomal recombination; therefore, its target promoter (In this system, the range of applications for this technology is very the gene of interest was separated from its promoter broad. Rapid progress has been made in the develop- by a fragment containing the genes coding for the ment of these technologies for generating marker-free XVE transcription factor, the nptII selectable marker transgenic plants. The technologies have implica- and the Cre recombinase (under the control of the tions for additional benefits such as the modification inducible promoter) surrounded by lox sites. Trans- of copy number at insertions sites. For example, formation of Arabidopsis was achieved by selection complex multicopy integration patterns generated for kanamycin resistance. Subsequent induction with by biolistics-mediated transformation of wheat were ␤-estradiol resulted in the excision of the complete reduced to single-copies by Cre-mediated recom- induction system along with the Cre recombinase bination of the outermost copies and selectable marker genes. The final product was A concern is that high levels of recombinase the reconstituted gene of interest, in this case GFP.
expression may result in genome rearrangements at In Arabidopsis, excision occurred in all of the plants cryptic-target sites in plants. Although such sites have with high efficiency in the germline cells (29–66%) not been described in nuclear genomes of plants, using a single transformation ).
chloroplast cryptic lox sites have been described This new strategy satisfies many of the criticisms B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 associated with the earlier applications of the tech- inducible glutathione-S-transferase (GST-II-27) pro- nology as discussed in Data with crop moter from maize. By driving the R gene with the species is now needed to evaluate the full potential of GST-II-27 promoter, the frequency of marker-free the system for agriculture.
plants increased to 88%. Furthermore, 86% of thesehad single T-DNA insertions ().
4.5.2. FLP–FRT The GST-II-27 promoter was induced by the herbi- The FLP–FRT system derived from the Saccha- cide antidote ‘Safener R29148' in tissue culture for romyces cerevisiae 2␮ plasmid has also been tested 2 weeks after transfer of the ipt-induced shooty ex- in plants. In tobacco and Arabidopsis, plants trans- plants to hormone-free solid media. As sexual cross- formed with the FLP recombinase were crossed with ing was not required for the recovery of marker-free plants transformed with T-DNA in which the GUS plants, the system was tested in hybrid aspen as coding region is separated from the 35S promoter by a model for vegetatively propagated plants. Trans- a hpt gene bracketed by FRT sites. This resulted in genic marker-free aspen were recovered with 21% excision of the hpt gene and activation of the GUS gene in all cases (Interestingly, the A potential criticism of the technology is the depen- soybean Gmhsp17.6L heat shock promoter was used dence on organogenesis whereas most economically- and performed as an inducible promoter in a subset of important crops are regenerated by embryogenesis.
cells. In transgenic maize callus similar results were However, in rice the system has performed effectively obtained and transient expression was shown to re- (25% efficiency) in generating transgenic marker-free sult in excision at a frequency of 2–3% plants through organogenesis in a single step without forming ipt-shooty intermediates using the 35S-drivenR gene ( 4.5.3. R–RS The R–RS system from Zygosaccharomyces rouxii has been used in the MAT vectors as an alternative 5. Environmental risks of marker genes
to the Ac transposase-mediated transposition of thegenes as described above (reviewed by The presence of selectable-marker genes in genet- Tobacco plants were transformed ically modified (GM) plants has raised public con- with T-DNA vectors in which the ipt selectable marker cerns that they will be transferred to other organisms.
gene and the gene coding for the R recombinase were In the case of antibiotic resistance markers, there is a surrounded by RS sites. The ipt gene provided the fear that the presence of these markers in GM crops initial selection for morphological abnormalities (i.e.
could lead to an increase in antibiotic resistant bacte- the shooty phenotype). The A. rhizogenes rol genes rial strains. In the case of herbicide-resistance markers, (which confer the rooty phenotype have the concern is that the markers will contribute to the creation of new aggressive weeds. Before GM crops Co-expression of the R recombinase, under are released for field trials or commercialization, these the control of the 35S promotor, eventually excised issues are addressed as a fundamental part of the in- the ipt and R genes resulting in the development of ternational regulatory process ( normal marker-free shoots at very high frequencies (39–70%; 67% of marker-freetransgenic tobacco plants had more than three T-DNA 5.1. Marker gene flow to crops and related species insertions. This was presumably due to the strongconstitutive expression of the R gene by the 35S pro- The potential for GM crops to become weeds or to moter, which resulted in the removal of the ipt gene pass their transgenes to wild or weedy relatives is of- in low-copy-number callus before transgenic shoots ten cited as a potential risk in the commercialization could be generated.
of transgenic crops. The potential risks of GM plants To control excision events, the 35S promoter con- to the environment have been extensively reviewed trolling the R gene was replaced with the chemically B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 results. The report concludes that gene flow will occur between B. rapa and B. napus when they are grown in Domestic crops have been grown near wild or close proximity but they did not detect gene flow with weedy relatives over long periods of time. Gene flow any other close wild relative. The planting of barrier to weedy relatives depends on whether hybridization crops to act as "absorbers" of GM pollen or changes and introgression are possible. Most of the world's in isolation distances for cross-pollinating transgenic major crops can hybridize to wild relatives somewhere crops may help with containment ( where they are grown agriculturally ( Crop-to-weed geneflow may lead to significant changes in the recipient 5.1.1. Strategies for restricting gene flow wild population, and has been of particular concern A number of molecular approaches are being de- where areas of crop cultivation coincide with centres veloped to restrict gene flow from GM plants to other of crop origin or areas known for extensive genetic crops and wild plant populations. The development of diversity (e.g., landraces, etc.); indeed hybridization transplastomic plants in which the transgenes are in- has been implicated in the extinction of certain wild corporated into the chloroplast genome is a promising relatives (reviewed in technology being developed to reduce the probability The potential spread of herbicide resistance (HR) to of transgene transfer through pollen dispersal ( wild species and non-transgenic crop plants has raised A unique feature of plastids of most separate concerns. Pollen flow between canola culti- plants is that they are maternally inherited, limiting the vars with different herbicide-resistant traits is known potential spread of transgenes through pollen. A study to result in unintentional gene stacking. In 1998 and to assess the likelihood of future transplastomic B. 1999, volunteer canola plants with multiple herbicide napus to hybridize with B. rapa demonstrated mater- tolerances were identified in fields in Canada nal inheritance of chloroplasts in hybrids of B. napus B. rapa and concluded that there was negligible Canola has numerous wild rela- pollen-mediated dispersal of chloroplasts from oilseed tives in Canada and worldwide ( rape (Although the au- thors felt that gene flow would be rare if plants were is able to hybridize with several related weedy species genetically engineered via the chloroplast genome, they could not entirely rule out the possibility that in- A 3-yr gene flow study be- trogression of B. rapa could occur if B. napus acted tween B. napus and four related weedy species (B. as the female parent. So far, there have been no re- rapa, Raphanus raphanistrum, Erucastrum gallicum, ports of transformation of B. napus chloroplasts. The and Sinapis arvensis) in commercial HR canola fields transformation of plant chloroplasts is challenging and has been conducted in Canada ( so far stable transplastomics have been identified only Gene flow from HR B. napus to natural wild popu- in tobacco, tomato and potato ( lations of B. rapa was confirmed in two commercial Clearly, studies in other crop plants are HR canola fields in Québec; thus, representing the required before this technology can be widely adopted.
first documented occurrence of transgene escape from A number of other approaches are being developed commercially released transgenic crops into a natural to restrict gene flow from GM plants to other crops and weed population. There was no evidence of gene flow to wild plant populations. Like plastid transformation in the other three species. A study commissioned by they are applicable to transgenes in general and not just DEFRA in the UK monitored the agricultural releases limited to selectable marker genes. These strategies of genetically modified oilseed rape from 1994 until are designed to limit the spread of pollen, affect seed the end of the year 2000 ( sterility or impose hybridization barriers. Most are still This study found that depending on the environmen- in early stages of development and have limitations.
tal, varietal and agronomic factors in natural field con- Detailed descriptions are beyond the scope of this ditions, the degree of outcrossing of GM plants with review and have been reviewed elsewhere ( neighbouring related varieties can give very different B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 5.1.2. Need for marker gene removal DNA must survive restriction enzyme digestion by the The potential spread of GM traits into weedy or host prior to incorporation into the genome by rare wild relatives has fuelled debate over the necessity of DNA repair or recombination events selectable marker genes in plants. Even if gene flow Furthermore, if a gene trans- into other crops and natural plant populations does fer event did occur, considerable selective pressure not pose an environmental or agricultural risk, it may would be required for the transfer event to become still seriously reduce public acceptance of genetically modified plants. The selectable marker will only con- Studies have looked for horizontal gene transfer tribute to weediness if there is a selective advantage of antibiotic resistance genes from transgenic-plant for the presence of the marker in the weedy plant.
nuclear DNA into native bacteria. No one has demon- In future crop development selectable markers can strated that this can occur under natural conditions be chosen that do not confer a potential competitive advantage. In the case of antibiotic resistance genes, showed that gene transfer can there is no evidence that these genes will provide occur from transplastomic tobacco plants if the receiv- any selectable advantage. However, it may be more ing microorganism contains sequences homologous to difficult to predict what impact individual selectable the chloroplast DNA. Transplastomic plants contain markers that alter plant metabolism may have if they about 10,000 copies of the transgene per cell compared become introgressed into wild species.
to a copy number of less than 10 in plants that haveundergone genetic modification of the nuclear genome 5.2. Horizontal gene transfer (). The increased copy numberpotentially increases the probability of gene transfer The use of antibiotic resistance selectable marker from plant DNA to bacterial cells. genes in genetically modified crops have raised con- conducted studies with transplastomic tobacco plants cerns about the potential transfer of these genes to gut containing the aadA gene, conferring resistance to and soil bacteria or to the cells of animals who eat these spectinomycin and streptomycin, to determine if plants. This has been reviewed by a number of authors gene transfer to bacteria could be detected. The soil bacterium Acinetobacter sp. strain BD413 was used to co-infect the transplastomic plants with the plant general conclusion from available evidence is that the pathogen Ralstonia solanacearum. Acinetobacter transfer of DNA from genetically modified plants to sp.strain BD413 develops a competent state while ac- other organisms would be an extremely rare occur- tively colonizing plants infected with R. solanacearum (To optimize the probability ofgene transfer, the Acinetobactor sp. BD413(pBAB2) 5.2.1. Mechanisms of horizontal gene transfer and contained a plasmid with homology to the chloroplast genome. Acinetobacter sp. transformants containing Horizontal gene transfer between bacteria occurs by the aadA gene were isolated from plants co-infected three general mechanisms: transduction (viral transfer with Acinetobacter sp. BD413 (pBAB2) and R. of DNA), conjugation (cell to cell mediated transfer solanacearum. However, no Acinetobacter transfor- of genes on plasmids) and transformation (uptake of mants were obtained when homologous sequences exogenous DNA by bacteria) ( were omitted or when experiments were conducted The most likely mechanism to contribute to the trans- with nuclear transgenic plants. The increased gene fer of GM plant DNA to bacteria is called "natu- copy number associated with chloroplast integration of the transgene, combined with DNA sequence ho- There are a number of barriers that mology, increased the frequency of transformation must be overcome for horizontal gene transfer to oc- to a detectable level. These recent data raise the cur: the relevant gene must survive digestion in the possibility that horizontal gene transfer may occur intestinal tract or soil; the bacteria or mammalian cells under optimal natural conditions from transplastomic must be competent to take up exogenous DNA; the plants when the bacterial genome contains sequences B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 with homology to the plant transgene ( markers, such as nptII and hpt, are widely dispersed in nature and have limited therapeutic use (US Until recently, the production of transplastomic Given the low probability of horizontal gene plants in tobacco has relied almost totally on the use transfer from GM plants and the limited use of the of the aadA gene as a selectable marker, however new antibiotics to which nptII and hpt confer resistance, technologies are being developed to replace the use these selectable markers would not contribute in any of antibiotic resistance markers in plastids. Methods meaningful way to increased antibiotic resistance.
involving homologous recombination ( Although there is no evidence to suggest that the or the Cre–lox site-specific recombination currently used antibiotic resistance markers, such as nptII, pose any risks to humans, animals or the are being developed to remove the aadA gene after environment, to alleviate public concerns recommen- chloroplast transformation. Also, alternative markers dations have been made to eliminate all antibiotic for chloroplast transformation such as betaine alde- resistance genes from GM plants as new technologies hyde dehydrogenase (are being developed become available (EFB, 2001).
5.2.2. Biosafety and horizontal gene transfer 6. Concluding comments
In recent years, growing public concern regard- ing the spread of antibiotic resistance has lim- Examination of the scientific literature revealed that ited consumer acceptance of genetically modified a large number of selectable marker genes exist, but plants, especially in Europe ( few have been adopted for wide use in the production Of particular public concern of transgenic plants. The research needed to evaluate are the blaTEM1 and aadA genes, found in some their effectiveness and biosafety is considerable and GM plants, that are driven by bacterial promoters requires many years and substantial resources to com- (These genes were used for selectable mark- plete. For commercialization, the need to conform ers in bacteria and are present in GM plants because with regulatory guidelines will often dictate whether of limitations in vector cloning technology available new systems will be adopted because of the expenses at the time of plant development. They are not ex- that must be incurred to provide the data on the safety pressed in the GM plants. These antibiotic resistance of the system. The major selectable markers (nptII, markers are widely distributed in nature and the pos- hpt, bar) that are most prominently used by the scien- sibility of increasing the reservoir of antibiotic resis- tific community and for commercialization are among tance through horizontal gene transfer from plants is the first generation of selectable marker genes to be extremely remote developed that worked efficiently in a variety of appli- suggest that genes transferred by horizon- cations. They have proven to be effective for the de- tal gene transfer would be quickly eliminated from velopment of the first generation of transgenic plants.
the genome particularly in the absence of selection Experience is now accumulating that will dic- pressure. Currently, available cloning technology and tate the parameters that will be needed for the next vector design eliminates the presence of residual bac- generation of selectable marker genes and a similar terial selectable marker genes in future GM plants.
amount of time and effort will be required to develop Although, the main cause for concern is the them. Studies on horizontal gene flow and pollen widespread overuse of antibiotics in human and vet- flow to non-target organisms are just providing the erinary medicine (concerns about the important information needed to define some of these potential spread of antibiotic resistance genes through parameters. Progress has been made in extending the horizontal gene transfer has led to the recommenda- traditional approach of using a selective agent with tion that antibiotics widely used for clinical or veteri- high specificity for an enzyme that will encourage nary use, not be used as selectable markers in plants the growth of transformed cells. The bacterial phos- (US The antibiotic resistance marker phomannose isomerase gene, manA, is an example of genes that are currently widely used as plant selectable such as gene. The use of mannose as a selective agent B. Miki, S. McHugh / Journal of Biotechnology 107 (2004) 193–232 is less toxic to untransformed cells than antibiotics, results in model systems. As these technologies are herbicides or drugs and therefore seems to yield still being developed, they may not be ready for gen- greater transformation frequencies. Whether it will eral use for some time.
provide a greater margin of safety than the major se- Judging from the use of transgenic plants in pub- lectable markers that are currently in use needs to be lished research, the selectable marker genes in current determined. The rationale for the development of new use have served scientific discovery very well. Given selectable markers appears to be public perception the acreage of transgenic crops planted worldwide and acceptability.
without any harm to health or environment, the se- Major conceptual steps have been made in the eval- lectable markers do not appear to be a significant risk.
uation of genes that control development. Progress is For the future, continued development of selectable being made in studying genes that control organo- marker gene systems is very important as scientists genesis and it has been demonstrated that they may challenge the capacity of transgenic plants and deter- function as selectable marker genes. In the future, mine more complex applications for their use.
genes that control embryogenesis will also prove use-ful. When modifying plant metabolism and develop- ment, pleiotropic effects are likely to occur and mustbe fully understood. The first generations of selectable The authors are grateful to Drs. Suzanne Warwick markers were usually borrowed from bacterial systems and Lining Tian for reviewing the manuscript and pro- and pleiotropic effects have not been seen in the field viding helpful comments. The study was supported performance of the plants containing them. Generally, by a research contract to Agriculture and Agri-Food bacterial detoxification systems are distinct enough Canada from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
from plant processes that phenotypic interactions be- ECORC contribution number 03-280.
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