Site-specific excisional recombination strategies for elimination of undesirable transgenes from crop plants

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A major limitation of crop biotechnology and breeding is the lack of efficient molecular technologies for precise engineering of target genomic loci. While transformation procedures have become routine for a growing number of plant species, the random introduction of complex transgenenic DNA into the plant genome by current methods generates unpredictable effects on both transgene and homologous native gene expression. The risk of transgene transfer into related plant species and consumers is another concern associated with the conventional transformation technologies. Various approaches to avoid or eliminate undesirable transgenes, most notably selectable marker genes used in plant transformation, have recently been developed. These approaches include cotransformation with two independent T-DNAs or plasmid DNAs followed by their subsequent segregation, transposon-mediated DNA elimination, and most recently, attempts to replace bacterial T-DNA borders and selectable marker genes with functional equivalents of plant origin. The use of site-specific recombination to remove undesired DNA from the plant genome and concomitantly, via excision-mediated DNA rearrangement, switch-activate by choice transgenes of agronomical, food or feed quality traits provides a versatile “transgene maintenance and control” strategy that can significantly contribute to the transfer of transgenic laboratory developments into farming practice. This review focuses on recent reports demonstrating the elimination of undesirable transgenes (essentially selectable marker and recombinase genes) from the plant genome and concomitant activation of a silent transgene (e.g., a reporter gene) mediated by different site-specific recombinases driven by constitutive or chemically, environmentally or developmentally regulated promoters. These reports indicate major progress in excision strategies which extends application of the technology from annual, sexually propagated plants towards perennial, woody and vegetatively propagated plants. Current trends and future prospects for optimization of excision-activation machinery and its practical implementation for the generation of transgenic plants and plant products free of undesired genes are discussed.

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