Gene silencing from plant DNA carried by a Geminivirus

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SummaryThe geminivirus tomato golden mosaic virus (TGMV) replicates in nuclei and expresses genes from high copy number DNA episomes. The authors used TGMV as a vector to determine whether episomal DNA can cause silencing of homologous, chromosomal genes. Two markers were used to assess silencing: (1) the sulfur allele (su) of magnesium chelatase, an enzyme required for chlorophyll formation; and (2) the firefly luciferase gene (luc). Various portions of both marker genes were inserted into TGMV in place of the coat protein open-reading frame and the constructs were introduced into intact plants using particle bombardment. When TGMV vectors carrying fragments of su (TGMV::su) were introduced into leaves of wild-type Nicotiana benthamiana, circular, yellow spots with an area of several hundred cells formed after 3-5 days. Systemic movement of TGMV::su subsequently produced variegated leaf and stem tissue. Fragments that caused silencing included a 786 bp 5′ fragment of the 1392 bp su cDNA in sense and anti-sense orientation, and a 403 bp 3′ fragment. TGMV::su-induced silencing was propagated through tissue culture, along with the viral episome, but was not retained through meiosis. Systemic downregulation of a constitutively expressed luciferase transgene in plants was achieved following infection with TGMV vectors carrying a 623 bp portion of luc in sense or anti-sense orientation. These results establish that homologous DNA sequences localized in nuclear episomes can modulate the expression of active chromosomal genes.

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