Nicotiana glauca engineered for the production of ketocarotenoids in flowers and leaves by expressing the cyanobacterial crtO ketolase gene

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Nicotiana glauca is a tobacco species that forms flowers with carotenoid-pigmented petals, sepals, pistil, ovary and nectary tissue. The carotenoids produced are lutein, ß-carotene as well as some violaxanthin and antheraxanthin. This tobacco species was genetically modified for ketocarotenoid biosynthesis by transformation with a cyanobacterial crtO ketolase gene under the 35S CaMV promoter. In the transformants, ketocarotenoids were detected in both leaves and flowers. Although astaxanthin was not detected other ketocarotenoids such as 4′-ketolutein, echinenone, 3′-hydroxyechinenone and 4-ketozeaxanthin were present. Accumulation of ketocarotenoids in leaves decreased their photosynthetic efficiency moderately. Under the green house conditions used no impairment of growth and development compared to the wild type was observed. In the crt O-transformants, an unexpected up-regulation of total carotenoid biosynthesis in leaves and especially in flower petals was observed. This led to a total ketocarotenoid concentration in leaves of 136.6 (young) or 156.1 (older) μg/g dry weight and in petals of 165 μg/g dry weight. In our engineered plants, the ketocarotenoid pathway is one step short of astaxanthin. Strategies are discussed to improve N. glauca flowers as a biological system for astaxanthin.

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