Silencing polygalacturonase expression inhibits tomato petiole abscission

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Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) was used as a tool for functional analysis of cell wall-associated genes that have been suggested to be involved in leaf abscission. Tobacco rattle virus is an effective vector for VIGS in tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum). Silencing was more efficient when the plants were grown at 22 °C than when they were grown at 20 °C or 25 °C. The photobleaching phenotype resulting from silencing phytoene desaturase varied, depending on cultivar, from barely visible to photobleaching of entire leaves. To study the function of abscission-related genes, a purple transgenic tomato line constitutively expressing the maize anthocyanin regulatory gene, Leaf colour (Lc) was used. Silencing Lc expression in this line resulted in reduced anthocyanin production (reversing the colour from purple to green), thus providing a convenient silencing ‘reporter’. Silencing tomato abscission-related polygalacturonases (TAPGs), using a TAPG1 fragment, delayed abscission and increased break strength of the abscission zone in explants treated with 1 μl l−1 ethylene. The abundance of TAPG1 transcripts in the green (silenced) abscission zone tissues was <1% of that in the purple (non-silenced) controls. As a highly homologous region was used for all five polygalacturonases it is assumed that the effect of delayed abscission is the result of silencing all the genes in this family. By contrast, silencing abscission-related expansins (LeEXP11 and LeEXP12) and endoglucanases (LeCEL1 and LeCEL2) had no discernible effect on break strength, even when the two endoglucanase genes were silenced concurrently. Simultaneous silencing of TAPG and LeCEL1 was no more effective than silencing TAPG alone. The data demonstrate the importance of TAPGs in the abscission of leaf petioles.

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