The ratio of Zn to Cd supply as a determinant of metal-homeostasis gene expression in tobacco and its modulation by overexpressing the metal exporter AtHMA4

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This study links changes in the tobacco endogenous metal-homeostasis network caused by transgene expression with engineering of novel features. It also provides insight into the concentration-dependent mutual interactions between Zn and Cd, leading to differences in the metal partitioning between wild-type and transgenic plants. In tobacco, expression of the export protein AtHMA4 modified Zn/Cd root/shoot distribution, but the pattern depended on their concentrations in the medium. To address this phenomenon, the expression of genes identified by suppression subtractive hybridization and the Zn/Cd accumulation pattern were examined upon exposure to six variants of low/high Zn and Cd concentrations. Five tobacco metal-homeostasis genes were identified: NtZIP2, NtZIP4, NtIRT1-like, NtNAS, and NtVTL. In the wild type, their expression depended on combinations of low/high Zn and Cd concentrations; co-ordinated responses of NtZIP1, NtZIP2, and NtVTL were shown in medium containing 4 µM Cd, and at 0.5 µM versus 10 µM Zn. In transgenics, qualitative changes detected for NtZIP1, NtZIP4, NtIRT1-like, and NtVTL are considered crucial for modification of Zn/Cd supply-dependent Zn/Cd root/shoot distribution. Notwithstanding, NtVTL was the most responsive gene in wild-type and transgenic plants under all concentrations of Zn and Cd tested; thus it is a candidate gene for the regulation of metal cross-homeostasis processes involved in engineering new metal-related traits.

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