Van Dun, Cornelius M. P. (Faunaberg 40 CC Roosendaal, NL-4708, NL)
Smeekens, Sjef C. M. (Van Westrenenlaan 7 AE Driebergen, NL-3971, NL)
Proveniers, Marcel C. G. (Kampereiland 11 CZ Utrecht, NL-3524, NL)
Van Der, Valk Pieter (Vluchtenborgt 10 DL Rilland, NL-4011, NL)
Van Dun, Cornelius M. P. (Faunaberg 40 CC Roosendaal, NL-4708, NL)
Smeekens, Sjef C. M. (Van Westrenenlaan 7 AE Driebergen, NL-3971, NL)
Proveniers, Marcel C. G. (Kampereiland 11 CZ Utrecht, NL-3524, NL)
|1.||A grass which has been genetically modified to substantially inhibit generative propagation.|
|2.||A grass according to claim 1 wherein said genetic modification improves at least digestibility or nutritional value or both of the grass.|
|3.||A grass according to claim 1 or 2 wherein said genetic modification results in a change in one or more plant characteristics selected from the group consisting of absence of inflorescences, increase in production of tillers, and delay in heading.|
|4.||A grass according to claims 13 wherein said genetic modification results in an increase in vegetative growth relative to nongenetically modified grass.|
|5.||A grass according to claims 14 wherein the genetic modification is induced by ectopic expression of genes that modify signal transduction.|
|6.||A grass according to claim 5 wherein signal transduction is altered by light.|
|7.||A grass according to claim 5 wherein signal transduction is altered by plant hormones.|
|8.||A grass according to claim 7 wherein signal transduction is altered by gibberellic acid.|
|9.||A grass according to claim 5 wherein signal transduction is modified by introduction of a gene encoding a regulator protein.|
|10.||A grass according to claims 9 wherein the regulator protein is a homeobox transcription factor.|
|11.||A grass according to claim 10 wherein the homeobox transcription factor is a factor that blocks heading.|
|12.||A grass according to claims 111 wherein said genetic modification interferes with metabolism of gibberellic acid.|
|13.||A grass according to claims 112 wherein said genetic modification is ectopic expression of transcription factor AtH 1.|
|14.||A grass according to claims 113 which is an amenitytype grass.|
|15.||A grass according to claims 113 which is a foragetype grass.|
|16.||A grass according to claims 115 which is derived from a plant species selected from the group consisting of Dactylis glomerata L., Festuca arundinacea schreb., Festuca pratensis huds., Lolium perenne L., Lolium multiflorum lam., Phleum pratense L., Agrostis tenuis sibth., Festuca rubra L., Festuca ovina ssp. Duriuscula (L.) koch, Poa pratensis L., Poa trivialis L., Medicago sativa L., Trifolium pratense L., Trifolium repens L., Agrostis L. Bermuda, Agrostis tenuis, and Agrostis stolonifera.|
|17.||Progeny of the grass according to claims 116 wherein the progeny stably inherited the genetic modification that substantially inhibited generative propagation.|
|18.||A plant part of the grass according to claims 117 wherein the plant part stably inherited the genetic modification that substantially inhibited generative propagation.|
|19.||A plant part according to claim 18 which is a seed.|
|20.||A seed according to claim 19 which is derived from a plant species selected from the group consisting of Dactylis glomerata L., Festuca arundinacea schreb., Festuca pratensis huds., Lolium perenne L., Lolium multiflorum lam., Phleum pratense L., Agrostis tenuis sibth., Festuca rubra L., Festuca ovina ssp. Duriuscula (L.) koch, Poa pratensis L., Poa trivialis L., Medicago sativa L., Trifolium pratense L., Trifolium repens L., Agrostis L. Bermuda, Agrostis tenuis, and Agrostis stolonifera.|
|21.||A mixture of seeds selected from the plant species according to claim 20.|
|22.||A method of making a grass according to claims 116 comprising transformation with a nucleic acid which interferes with metabolism of gibberellic acid.|
|23.||A method according to claim 22 further comprising transformation with the same or different nucleic acid which confers resistance to at least a herbicide or a pest or both.|
|24.||A method of using a grass according to claims 117 comprising at least growth or propagation or both of the grass.|
|25.||A method according toclaim 24 wherein the grass is used to play at least one sport selected from the group consisting of baseball, cricket, football, golf, rugby, soccer, and tennis.|
|26.||A method according to claim 24 wherein the grass is used at least in a portion of an athletic field, lawn, or park.|
|27.||A method according to claim 24 wherein the grass is fed to an animal selected from the group consisting of cattle, goat, horse, and sheep.|
|28.||A method according to claim 24 wherein the grass is used as animal feedstuff.|
|29.||A method of treating a grass according to claims 117 comprising application of a phytohormone to the grass, thereby at least partially relieving or reversing a change in a plant characteristic resulting from said genetic modification.|
|30.||A method according to claim 29 wherein said phytohormone triggers at least metabolism of gibberellic acid.|
|31.||A method according to claim 29 wherein said phytohormone is formulated in a penetrating carrier.|
|32.||A method according to claim 29 further comprising exposure of meristem to at least enhance phytohormonemediated relief or reversal of the change in the plant characteristic.|
|33.||A method according to claim 29 wherein said phytohormone is a gibberellic acid or a salt, ester or ether form thereof.|
|34.||A method according to claim 29 wherein generative propagation is induced by application of the phytohormone.|
|35.||A method according to claim 29 wherein heading time is decreased by application of the phytohormone.|
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION The prior art includes grasses that have been mutated such that flowering and production of inflorescences do not occur. These grasses, however, exhibit other unwanted characteristics such as dwarfism, leaf discoloration, root failure, and the like. The phrase"genetically modified"as used herein does not include chemical or irradiation mutagenesis, nor standard hybridization techniques that produce sterile progeny. For example, transformation with a nucleic acid to produce an alteration in the plant's genetic material is within the scope of the invention.
The prior art also includes grasses that have been treated with chemicals or phytohormones to inhibit flowering and production of inflorescences. But genetic modification in accordance with the present invention results in a change in heritable traits and does not require such treatment. Change in one or more characteristics of a genetically modified grass may be at least partially reversed by treatment with a phytohormone.
Additionally, dramatic delay of flowering has been shown in other monocots.
In wheat, flowering was inhibited using a gibberellin-degrading enzyme. This wheat, however, evidenced certain deleterious side effects such as dwarfism when in the non-flowering phase. The present invention avoids these deleterious side effects.
Although inhibition of flowering in grasses is considered to be a trait of high agronomic value, we are unaware of any demonstration in the prior art that genetic modification of grass can result in a non-flowering phenotype. The present invention has a number of significant advantages both for grasses bred for forage as well as
grasses bred for amenity purposes. These advantages can be summarised as follows : As a consequence of an extended vegetative growth phase, biomass will be generated continuously in the form of leaf material, which means a significant increase of the yield of well-digestible organic matter.
The loss of nutritional quality of the crop as a consequence of the formation of strongly lignified inflorescences as well as seeds is prevented. The percentage of digestible organic matter of a non-flowering grass is estimated to be about 80% during the whole season whereas this percentage is estimated to be about 60% for a non-genetically modified flowering grass.
This reduction in nutritional value is prevented by the present invention and the resulting increase in yield allows a farmer to significantly lower the use of feed additives and thereby minimise the overall emission of minerals into the environment.
Amenity grasses are improved in appearance and functional properties due to increased tillering and the absence or reduction of inflorescences.
Pollen development is blocked by a male-sterile phenotype such as inhibition of flowering. Therefore, as an additional benefit of the present invention, there is no production and spread of pollen. The environment is protected thereby from the putative risk of dissemination of traits conferred by transgenes (e. g., like herbicide resistance) to other plant species. Furthermore, allergy sufferers are protected from aggravation of their hayfever by this blockage.
Ectopic expression of AtH1, a gene encoding a homeotic transcription factor involved in the pathway for phytochrome B signal transduction, in the dicot plants Arabidopis and tobacco resulted in a delayed flowering phenotype. The phenotype could be reversed to flowering by exogenous application of gibberellic acid (see Intl.
Patent Appin. No. PCT/IB98/00821 published as WO 98/51800).
In contrast, the mechanism that controls the transition to flowering in grasses is currently unknown and persons skilled in the art had no reasonable expectation that the function of the AtH1 gene would be conserved in monocot species. Thus, the inhibition of flowering in grasses and the switch from vegetative to generative growth, instead of mere delay in flowering, was unexpected.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION The present invention broadly encompasses a genetically modified grass in which generative propagation is inhibited or substantially reduced. Such inhibition is at least"substantial"in that there is a dramatic reduction in a phenotype (i. e., change in one or more plant characteristics resulting from the genetic modification) as compared to the same species that has not been genetically modified. More specifically, it is directed to a non-flowering grass. The plant may be male sterile or female sterile. Even more specifically, the genetic modification may interfere with metabolism of gibberellic acid (e. g., by ectopic expression of a homeobox gene encoding a transcription factor, in particular a transcription factor that blocks heading). Vegetative growth may be increased thereby. Thus, the digestibility and/or nutritional value of animal feedstuff may be improved.
Moreover, the present invention encompasses seed and other plant parts (e. g., pollen or ovum forming}, at least some of which may be used for sexual or asexual propagation of the grass. The present invention may be used for forage or amenity purposes. Exemplary species useful for the present invention are of Dactylis glomerata L., Festuca arundinacea schreb., Festuca pratensis huds., Lolium perenne L., Lolium multiflorum lam., Phleum pratense L., Agrostis tenuis sibth., Festuca rubra L., Festuca ovina ssp. Duriuscula (L.) koch, Poa pratensis L., Poa trivialis L., Medicago sativa L., Trifolium pratense L., Trifolium repens L., Agrostis L.
Bermuda, Agrostis tenuis, and Agrostis stolonifera.
In addition, the present invention teaches methods of making and using such genetically modified grasses. The genetic modification of the grass may be produced by transformation of a grass species with a nucleic acid. For example, the nucleic acid may interfere with metabolism of gibberellic acid. This nucleic acid can come from a monocot or dicot. The nucleic acid may express a gene encoding for a transcription factor (e. g., the homeobox gene AtH1 which can be derived from Arabidopsis or other equivalents thereof).
The phrase"ectoptic expression"is defined as expression of a gene at a time and/or in an amount that is different from the endogenous gene activity and sufficient to confer the desired phenotype.
Optionally, the same or another nucleic acid may be introduced to confer another linked or unlinked heritable trait (e. g., herbicide or pest resistance).
The genetically modified grass may be grown and/or propagated. It may be used for athletic fields, lawns, parks, and other types of landscaping (i. e., amenity uses). For example, sports such as baseball, cricket, football, golf, rugby, soccer, and tennis may be played on grass of the present invention. Animals such as livestock (e. g., cattle, goats, horses, sheep) may graze directly thereon or eat feed processed from the genetically modified grass (i. e., forage uses). The invention provides a more digestible feedstuff for ruminant animals than the parental flowering grass even after extensive cuttings.
The genetic. modification may result in a heritable change in one or more plant characteristics such as, for example, inhibition of flowering (or substantial delay that amounts to inhibition), absence of inflorescence, increased production of tillers, delayed heading, and inhibition of the developmental switch from vegetative to generative growth.
It would be useful to be able to relieve or reverse one or more such changes.
For example, expression of a gene may be normalized or a phytohormone may be applied to the grass to restore gibberellic acid metabolism. The phytohormone may be a gibberellin compound in its acid or salt, ether or ester forms; it may be formulated with a carrier that enhances penetration (e. g., dimethyl sulfoxide, alcohol, surfactant). A switch to generative propagation may be induced by genetic or chemical methods.
Another aspect of the invention is related to preventing the escape and/or spread in the environment of one or more other plant characteristics (e. g., herbicide or pest resistance) that have also been genetically engineered as a trait. Thus, the putative risk associated with the spread of genetically engineered traits to non- modified plant relatives is minimised.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES Figure 1 shows a physical map of pVDH309.
Figure 2 shows a physical map of pVDH624.
Figure 3 shows a physical map of pVDH633.
Figure 4 shows a physical map of pVDH634.
Figure 5A shows a physical map of pVDH410.
Figure 5B shows a physical map of pVDH608.
Figure 5C shows a physical map of pVDH619.
Figure 5D shows a physical map of pVDH632.
Figure 6 shows a physical map of pVDH636, its nucleotide sequence (SEQ ID NO : 1), the molecular features of pVDH636, and the predicted amino acid sequence (SEQ ID NO : 2) of AtH1.
Figure 7 shows an ethidium bromide-stained agarose gel in which bands were obtained after PCR analysis of AtH1-transformants using genomic DNA extracted from leaves. On the left-hand side of each panel (i. e., lanes 1,26,51 and 76), a molecular size marker (lambda DNA digested with Hindlll) is shown. Remaining lanes (i. e., lanes 2-25, 27-50,52-75 and 77-100) contain the PCR product obtained from independent transformants. Most samples analysed gave a positive PCR signal of the expected size of 1463 basepairs (bp).
Figure 8 shows a Southern analysis of independent AtH1-transformants of Lolium. Each lane contains Hindlll digested genomic DNA isolated from a different, independent Lolium transformant. The blot was hybridised using labeled HPTI I DNA as probe.
Figure 9 shows an ethidium bromide-stained agarose gel in which bands were obtained after RT-PCR analysis of AtH1-transformants using total RNA extracted from leaves. On the left-hand side of each panel (i. e., lanes 1 and 8), a molecular size marker (lambda DNA digested with Hindlll) is shown. Remaining lanes (lanes 2- 7 and 9-14) contain the RT-PCR product obtained from independent transformants.
The presence of a 1463 bp DNA fragment indicates the presence of a full-length AtH1 transcript in the transformant.
Figure 10 shows the phenotype of Lolium perenne transformants expressing AtH1. The upper panel shows the phenotype of an non-transformed plant (right) and an AtH1-transformant (left) three months after flowering induction. The negative control plant shows an abundant number of inflorescences whereas the AtH1 plant remains completely vegetative. The lower panel shows the phenotype of the AtH1 transformant characterised by a normal habitus and continued vegetative growth.
DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION This invention describes a method to inhibit generative propagation in grass. It can be used to block the transition to flowering in grasses, as well as to control the process to switch back to flowering when this is desired.
This technology is useful in all grass species. They all have different primary uses, but the non-flowering technology is beneficial for agricultural use such as in alfalfa or in other forage grasses. In amenity grasses, non-flowering increases visual uniformity of the grass top and increases the lush bushiness of the lawn. Hardiness and ease of maintenance are plant characteristics desirable for areas that receive heavy use such as, for example, publicly accessible areas like parks and athletic fields.
Table 1. Grasses for which the invention is particularly useful. Dactylis glomerata L. Cocksfoot Festuca arundinacea schreb. Tall fescue Festuca pratensis huds. Meadow fescue Lolium perenne L. Perennial ryegrass Lolium multiflorum lam. Italian ryegrass Lolium multiflorum lam. Westerwold ryegrass Phleum pratense L. Timothy Agrostis tenuis sibth. Browntop Festuca rubra L. Chewings fescue Festuca rubra L. Slender creeping red fescue Festuca rubra L. Creeping fescue Festuca ovina ssp. Duriuscula (L.) koch Hard fescue Poa pratensis L. Smooth-stalked meadowgrass Poa trivialis L. Rough-stalked meadowgrass Medicago sativa L. Lucerne Trifolium pratense L. Red clover Trifolium repens L. White clover Agrostis L. Bermuda Bent grass Agrostis tenuis Browntop bent Agrostis stolonifera Creeping bent
The term"grass"as used herein refers to those listed in Table 1 and other monocots commonly considered grass but not including those monocots commonly considered cereals such as corn, rice, wheat, barley, and the like.
Turfgrass seed must be evaluated for the suitability of different cultivars for various amenity uses. There are a number of institutes that test grasses for various
uses. Most of the sports-type uses require high levels of wear tolerance and shoot density. The invention avoids generative growth and, thus, only exhibits vegetative growth under usual conditions. This vegetative growth results in more shoot density and more wear tolerance. The combination of a cultivar that has been bred to have excellent levels of shoot density and wear tolerance with this genetic modification is very promising for recreational and sports uses. Of particular interest are certain cultivars that are presently marketed in the U. K. such as Master perennial ryegrass for soccer and rugby pitches and Amadeus (Lolium perenne) for cricket fields and lawns.
Grass cultivars are ranked according to different sets of criteria by the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) in England. For winter pitches the criteria produced by the STRI is based on mean wear tolerance over low and high fertiliser inputs, and shoot density. These characteristics are important for sports pitches receiving intensive wear such as soccer and rugby pitches. The invention increases the shoot density and thus results in a grass that is superior for sports uses.
The invention can be employed in a number of grass types allowing the effect of enhanced vegetative growth and tillering to be used in a number of applications.
When employed in a finer leafed grass the invention is highly useful for lawns, parks, general landscaping, and ahtletic fields. Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) is tested by STRI for tolerance of close mowing, shoot density, fineness of leaf, slow regrowth (regular mowing), mean, cleanness of cut, short growth (infrequent mowing), freedom from red thread, summer greenness and winter greenness. The invention is particularly useful when introduced into cultivars such as Bellevue which already evidence traits such as enhanced shoot density, fineness of leaf, and tolerance to close mowing.
Cultivars of Chewings fescue and slender creeping red fescue are suitable for use in very close mown turf (for example golf and bowling green mown at 5 mm) and for more general uses such as lawns and golf fairways. For general turf, the cultivars are looked at for shoot density and tolerance to close mowing. Tolerance of close mowing and shoot density will be of most importance for ornamental lawns and very close mown turf such as golf and bowling greens. The invention will enhance shoot density of Chewings fescue and slender creeping red fescue, and render them suitable for this type of use.
Cultivars of browntop bent (Agrostis tenuis) and creeping bent (Agrostis stolonifera) are used in golf and bowling greens which are closely mown, and for ornamental lawns and golf fairways. Velvet bentgrass is a dense turf and exhibits some drought tolerance. However, it also produces more thatch than other bentgrass species. When genetically modified to inhibit generative propagation and optionally to be herbicide resistant, grass with vegetative-only growth would enhance its useful for greens and fairways. Additionally, it may reduce mowing costs associated with removal of seed heads of the grass. Thus, grasses of the invention may also be aesthetically more-pleasing to the eye than grasses which have flowered.
Smooth-stalked meadowgrass (Poa pratensis) for use in winter pitches (soccer, rugby, etc.) is tested by STRI for wear tolerance, shoot density, fineness of leaf, slow regrowth (regular mowing), freedom from leaf spot, orange stripe rust resistance, summer greenness and winter greenness. Such plant characteristics are clearly of importance for amenity uses. Therefore, the invention can be used for landscaping and sports either in combination with the naturally high levels of shoot density or to increase the shoot density of cultivars lacking such a trait.
Cultivars of smooth-stalked meadowgrass (Poa pratensis) can be employed under football-type wear for inclusion in winter pitches and for landscaping (e. g., lawns and parks). Smooth-stalked meadowgrass is tested by STRI on tolerance of shoot density, fineness of leaf, mean, slow regrowth (regular mowing), short growth (infrequent mowing), freedom from leaf spot, orange stripe rust resistance, summer greenness, and winter greenness. Once established, smooth-stalked meadowgrass can be useful for football (soccer) wear and has tolerance of close mowing.
However, establishment of this grass is slow and results cannot be achieved until at least 12 months after sowing. The invention may enhance the establishment of the grass and reduce the down time prior to use.
U. S. golf courses frequently employ Agrostis L. (bent grasses) while golf courses in Europe employ the fine tillered meadow fecsue. The soccer fields of Europe frequently employ mixtures of Lolium perenne and Poa grasses. All of these grass uses are improved by the use of a non-flowering grass. Non-flowering grass increases the longevity under wearing conditions of the grass due to the bushiness resulting from the plant placing energy into the production of tillers instead of the production of inflorescence. Additionally, these additional tillers create a more level cut grass surface, (a uniform sward) which may enhance ball directional control in
golf for example. The increased vegetative growth should reduce brown spots due to cleat or divot damage. Additionally, the use of a non-flowering herbicide resistance grass is particularly useful to decrease care and maintenance costs associated with the removal of weeds from greens, pitches and fairways and roughs.
The invention can be introduced into other plants by conventional breeding methods such as forming hybrids, conventional breeding, backcrossing, or cross pollination, (after the non-flowering is switched off by application of a phytohormone which induces flowering). Or alternatively, the invention can be introduced into a grass by genetic modification of the plant. This transition to non-flowering can be through introduction of genetic material (e. g., a nucleic acid like an expression vector) by transformation processes.
Transition to flowering in a plant is a critical and complex developmental process during the life cycle of a plant. The process is controlled-by external factors like day length, light quality and quantity, low temperature, availability of water and nutrients. Moreover, internal factors like plant size, and number of internodes are considered to be critical. The plant senses this complex array of environmental cues and this information is relayed to the nucleus where the gene expression profile is modulated in order to respond appropriately to the existing conditions. This mechanism maximises the chances of a plant to successfully produce viable offspring and therefor contributes to its fitness.
These properties, which increase the survival rate in nature of the plant species, can be in conflict with the characteristics desired for agricultural use.
Transition to flowering in grasses is a trait, which lowers the benefits of this crop- group for agricultural use. However, for seed production, one of the objectives of grass breeding is to select for varieties which are good flowering. However now that there is the present invention an objective of grass breeding can include selection of varieties which are delayed or completely blocked in the switch to flowering. A prerequisite for grass seed production (but not for sod production) is to design a controlled switch mechanism which allows seed production when required.
The regulation of the flowering induction process is under control of a large number of gene loci. Molecular genetic studies on Arabidopsis currently have identified a total number of 80 loci involved in the control of flowering time. This complexity combined with the diversity which exist between plant species with respect to the flowering induction process make it hard to predict which gene
products are key regulator factors in the signal transduction cascades that control the transition to flowering. As a consequence, the efficacy of exploiting available genetic factors in either homologous or heterologous systems with the objective to control the developmental regulation cannot be predicted on theoretical grounds but needs to be tested experimentally case by case.
In WO 98/51800, the use has been described of a homeotic gene called AtH1 derived from the dicotyledonous plant species Arabidopsis thaliana to control the flowering induction process. Ectopic overexpression of the Ath1 gene in dicots like Arabidopsis and tobacco significantly inhibited the transition to flowering, whereas downregulation of this gene in Arabidopsis resulted in precocious flowering.
Biochemical analysis showed that overexpression of the AtH1 gene in tobacco lowers the endogenous concentration of biological active forms of the phytohormone gibberellic acid. The inhibited flowering phenotype can be reversed by exogenous application of gibberellic acid : A number of formulations containing a gibberellin compound in various forms such as ethers, esters, salts or acids could be used to induce flowering. Exemplary compounds are GA3 or 16,17-dihydro-GA3 or 3-epi-GA3 or 3-epi-16, 17-dihydro-GA3 or 2,2-dimethyl-GA4 and its 3a-OH derivative and its 16,17-dihydro derivative and 3- epi-2, 2-dimethyl-GA4 and its 16,17-dihydro derivative and GA5 and its 16,17-dihydro derivative and 15P-OH-GA5 and its 16,17-dihydro derivative including exo-16,17- dihydro-GA5. Other examples include exo-16,17-dihydro-GA5, endo-16,17-dihydro- GA5, exo-16,17-dihydro-GA5-13-acetate, endo-16,17-dihydro-GA5-13-acetate, exo- 16,17-dihydro-GA5-13-n-propyl ether.
The invention describes the use of the AtH1 gene in monocotyledonous plant species like grasses with the objective to control the flowering induction process.
Transition to flowering in grasses is characterised by a three-month vernalisation requirement and consecutive long day conditions. This differs from the Arabidopsis and tobacco varieties used earlier to demonstrate the efficacy of AtH1 to control flowering induction which do not require vernalisation and are day-length independent. Therefor it could not be predicted and it was surprising that ectopic expression of AtH1 in transgenic grasses would result in a delayed and/or non- flowering phenotype. The tillering evidenced by this vegetative growth in the plant
and the lack of any negative phenotype changes such as dwarfism or other abnormalities was very surprising.
Initially it was believed that a monocot homologue of the AtH1 gene would have to be found. It is still believed that this would be a usefully homologue as would most of the other monocots homologues from corn, lilies, rice, wheat and the like.
But just as a inexpensive test, which was not expected to work, a DNA construct using the dicot gene was made. It was not evident that this dicot gene would be useful in a monocot. However, upon expression in of the dicot AtH1 gene the transgenic grass plants showed an accumulation of the AtH1 protein which then might inhibit the flowering induction process.
The vector used to transform grass is based on pBluescript and contains the AtH1 cDNA under transcriptional control of the ubiquitin promoter derived from maize. This promoter is constitutively active in monocotyledonous species including Grass and is therefor useful to overexpress transgenes. Additionally, it is noted that promoters that are triggered to stop in the presence of the gibberellic acid are very useful. However, other promoters can be useful in this respect as well. Possibly tissue-specific promoters like promoters exclusively active in shoot apical meristem could also be used.
In order to select for transformants use is made of a HPTII gene, which upon expression confers resistance towards the antibiotic hygromycin. Hygromycin has been shown to be very effective as a selective agent but other selectable marker systems could be used as well like kanamycin resistance, glyphosate resistance, gluphosinate-ammonium resistance, and the like. In order to generate transgenic Lolium plants embryogenic suspension cultures were bombarded using the so-called particle inflow gun (PIG). Other transformation systems can be used as well like the whisker system or Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The transformation experiments have resulted in a large number of hygromycin resistant, transgenic Lolium plants, which were characterized molecularly. The number of integrated copies of the AtH1 construct was variable and ranged from one to ten.
The transformants were analysed further by RT-PCR in order to select those transformants that express the integrated AtH1 gene. AtH1 mRNA could be detected in about 70% of the transformants. A group of control non-transformed plants as well as the transgenic plants were used in a flowering experiment. In order to do this the plants were vernalised for 10 weeks at an average temperature of 4°C. After the
vernalisation period, the plants were placed under conditions favoring induction of flowering (i. e., long days of 16 hr light/8 hr dark) and 20°C. Plants were monitored weekly for the appearance of inflorescences. Control non-transformed plants, which share the same genetic background as the transformant plants, were developing inflorescences about three to six weeks after transfer to long day conditions (99% of the individual plants). However, a significant number (i. e., 18%) of AtH1 expressing, independent transformants did not flower at all even at four months after transfer to long days. This result shows that, surprisingly, ectopic expression of the Ath1 gene in transgenic grass-can result in a complete block of the transition to flowering.
Moreover, the non-flowering transformants continued developing vegetatively which resulted in a large increase of biomass. No obvious negative pleiotropic effects were observed for the non-flowering transformants.
In agronomic practice, fields are treated with phytotoxic, chemical compounds to control weeds. If these compounds are applied during the life cycle of the crop, the crop needs to be resistant to the compound. One way to confer resistance to the otherwise susceptible crop is to transgenically introduce a resistance gene into the crop. In order to have a sustainable system of susceptible weeds and a tolerant crop it is pertinent that the resistance gene does not flow into the germplasm of the weedy relatives of the crop. This is especially an issue in cultivated grass crops, which have many wild relatives with which genetic material can be exchanged. A strategy to prevent the flow of genetic resistance traits from a cultivated crop into its wild and weedy relatives is disclosed: a non-flowering genetic trait is combined with a gene conferring resistance to the phytotoxic compound. Although not used as such in agronomic practice, hygromycin is a phytotoxic compound. Grass plants treated with hygromycin in vitro die, unless they express the HPTII resistance gene.
The invention demonstrates that plants inhibited for generative propagation as well as containing a transgene conferring resistance to a phytotoxic compound like hygromycin survive treatment with the phytotoxic compound, whereas control plants not expressing the transgene conferring hygromycin resistance do not. This demonstrates that a genetic trait linked to a non-flowering gene can be used in vivo and that the non-flowering technology is useful to lower the risk of the spreading of transgenes in the environment.
A normally flowering grass can be genetically modified by a transformation method such as a gun apparatus, an inflow apparatus (PIG), or an Agrobacterium
which is adapted for monocot use. The transformation method must be capable of the introduction of a functional gene construct. This gene construct should lead to the biosynthesis and accumulation of a homeotic protein. The specific homeotic protein or functional homologues (a functional homologue protein is a protein that results in a novel and unexpected life cycle of the grass plant characterized by an extended vegetative growth phase and inhibited generative growth phase) of that protein AtH1 originating from the cruciferous plant species Arabidopsis thaliana results in a novel and unexpected life cycle of the grass plant characterized by an extended vegetative-growth phase and as a consequence a significant increase in yield of biomass. This biomass is containing substantially more digestible feedstuff for ruminant animals than the flowering control grass even after extensive numbers of grass cuttings.
Plants made in accordance with the invention were demonstrated to continue developing in a vegetative mode despite their being subjected to environmental conditions strongly favoring the phase transition to flowering for non-transformed control plants having the same genetic background. A plant characteristic conferred by the invention can be at least partially relieved or reversed by application of a phytohormone (e. g., a gibberellin compound).
The invention is further described by the following examples, but its practice is not limited thereby.
EXAMPLES EXAMPLE 1: PREPARATION OF TRANSFORMATION VECTORS In order to obtain transgenic grasses expressing the AtH1 gene derived from A. thaliana (Quaedviieg et al., 1995), an expression vector was made which contains the AtH1 cDNA under the transcriptional control of a promoter derived from the ubiquitin (UBI) gene from maize (Christensen et al., 1992), including the first exon- intron combination in order to enhance expression. The polyadenylation signal derived from the opaline synthase gene (Tnos) of Agrobacterium tumefaciens was attached at the 3'-end of the cDNA to allow proper termination of transcription.
Covalently linked to the chimeric AtH1 gene was a selectable marker comprised of the actin promoter (ACT) derived from rice, the HPTII gene derived from Escherichia coli, and the 35S polyadenylation signal (T35S) derived from Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (McElroy et al., 1991; Spangenberg et al., 1995a). Expression of the selectable
marker confers-resistance to the antibiotic hygromycin, which can be used to select transformed plants.
The construct was made using standard molecular cloning techniques and protocols well known to the person skilled in the art. In detail the construct was made according to the following steps. The Sacl site of the plasmid pVDH309 (Fig. 1), containing the UBI-promoter linked to a gene encoding beta-glucuronidase (GUS), was made blunt by T4 DNA polymerase after which a Notl linker was attached to it.
The resulting plasmid, called pVDH527, was digested with BamHl and Notl which removed the GUS-gene which was subsequently replaced by a full length AtH1 cDNA with a Tnos attached to the 3'-end which was released from plasmid pVDH619 (Fig. 5C) after digestion with Bglll and Notl. The resulting plasmid is called pVDH624 (Fig. 2).
The primary structure of the UBI-AtHI construct was analysed by sequencing, which revealed a frame-shift mutation in the open reading frame of the AtH1 gene.
To repair this mutation, a novel AtH1 cDNA was prepared by PCR using a plasmid called pVDH608 (Fig. 5B) as template, which contained a correct version of the AtHI cDNA. As the forward primer 5'-GCG TCG ACC CAA TGG ACA ACA ACA ACA ACA AC-3' (SEQ ID NO : 3) and as the reverse primer 5'-GCG GAT CCG AGT AGC AAT TGC CTA ATT ATC AC-3' (SEQ ID NO : 4) were used. The PCR-product was digested with Sall and BamHl to generate sticky ends and ligated into pVDH624 digested with Sall and BamHl, which resulted in plasmid pVDH632 (Fig. 5D). As the UBI-promoter also contains a Sall site, the Sall fragment of the UBI-promoter had to be introduced into pVDH632 in order to obtain the appropriate UBI-AtHI construct called pVDH633 (Fig. 3).
The Xbal site locate at the 5'-end of the UBI-promoter was modified to a Notl site by filling in the digested Xbal site with Klenow polymerase and ligating a Notl linker to the blunt end. The resulting plasmid is called pVDH634, which is shown in Fig. 4. Sequence analysis showed this UBI AtHI construct to be correct. The plasmid pVDH634 was subsequently digested with Notl, which released the complete UBI- AtHI-NOS chimeric gene. This DNA fragment was inserted into the Notl site of the plasmid pVDH410 (Fig. 5) which is a pUC-derived plasmid containing the ACT-HPTII selectable marker with a unique Notl site at its 5'-end. The resulting vector, which contained both genes in the same transcriptional orientation, was called pVDH636 (Fig. 6) and was used in Lolium transformation experiments using the particle inflow
gun as DNA delivery system. The integrity of the plasmid was confirmed by sequence analysis. The complete primary structure of pVDH636 is shown in Fig. 6.
In addition, transformation was carried out using a mixture of the vectors pVDH410 and pVDH633.
EXAMPLE 2: TRANSFORMATION OF LOLIUM PERENNE Embryogenic suspension cultures of Lolium perenne L. (cv. Mondial) were established (Spangenberg et al., 1995a) and transformed with pVDH636, using the particle inflow gun- (PIG) (Finer et al., 1992). Filters with an embryogenic suspension culture were bombarded with gold particles coated with the transformation vectors.
Transformed tissues were selected using hygromycin B according to Spangenberg et al. (1995b). The results of the transformation using pVDH636 are shown below.
Table 2. Summary of Lolium transformations using pVDH636 Plasmid # filters # filters with # transformants Minimum # of bombarded hygR shoots independent transformants pVDH636 787 306 943 279 As can be seen from the results shown in Table 2, approximately 39% of the filters carrying the embryogenic suspension cultures ultimately resulted in hygromycin resistant shoots. After transfer to rooting medium, a total number of 943 putative transformants were obtained. However, as individual plants which are derived from one and the same filter are considered to be possibly dependent (i. e. genetically identical), the total number of independent transformants as defined as the number of hygromycin resistant plants regenerated from different filters was 279.
In a separate transformation experiment co-bombardment of a mixture of two transformation vectors was carried out. This allows genetic segregation between the integrated ACT-HPTII construct and the integrated UBI-AtH1 construct in offspring for those events in which the two integrated plasmids are not genetically linked. The two vectors used for this transformation experiment were pVDH410, which contains the ACT-HPTII selectable marker, and pVDH633, which contains the UBI-AtH1 construct. The results of the transformation using pVDH410 and pVDH636 are shown below.
Table 3. Summary of Lolium transformations using pVDH410 and pVDH636 Plasmids # filters # filters with # transformants Minimum # of bombarded hygR shoots independent transformants pVDH410 257 107 129 67 pVDH633 pVDH633
As can be seen from the results shown in Table 3, approximately 42% of the filters carrying the embryogenic suspension cultures ultimately resulted in hygromycin resistant shoots. After transfer to rooting medium, a total number of 129 putative transformants were obtained. However, as individual plants which are derived from one and the same filter are considered to be possibly dependent (i. e., genetically identical), the total number of independent transformants as defined as the number of hygromycin resistant plants regenerated from different filters was 67.
EXAMPLE 3: MOLECULAR ANALYSIS OF THE PUTATIVE TRANSFORMANTS In order to select transformants, which contain a functional UBI-AtH1 construct, the hygromycin resistant plants were analysed molecularly. An initial screen was carried out by PCR to select for plants containing a minimum of one full- length copy of the AtH1 cDNA. Genomic DNA was purified from leaf explants and used in a PCR reaction containing the following primer set: forward primer 5'-GCG TCG ACC CAA TGG ACA ACA ACA ACA ACA AC-3' (SEQ ID NO : 3) and reverse primer 5'-GCG GAT CCG AGT AGC AAT TGC CTA ATT ATC AC-3' (SEQ ID NO : 4).
The 1463 kb DNA fragment diagnostic for the presence of an integrated full length AtH cDNA was observed in 85% of the independent hygromycin resistant plants (Fig.
7). An estimate of the integrated number of gene copies was made by Southern analysis using the restriction enzyme Hindlil to digest the genomic DNA and HPTII as a labeled probe. The result of such an analysis of plants transformed with pVDH636 is given in Fig. 8 and shows from the different banding patterns that a number of independent events have been obtained which contain estimated copy numbers ranging from one to ten.
The PCR positive transformants identified above were further analysed for the presence of full-length AtH1 mRNA in an RT-PCR reaction using total leaf RNA as a
template and 5' :-GCG TCG ACC CAA TGG ACA ACA ACA ACA ACA AC-3' (SEQ ID NO : 3) as forward primer and 5'-GCG GAT CCG AGT AGC AAT TGC CTA ATT ATC AC-3' (SEQ ID NO : 4) as reverse primer. A positive signal was obtained for more than about 70% of the transformants indicating that these transformants accumulate full-length AtH1 mRNA (Fig. 9).
EXAMPLE 4: PHENOTYPIC ANALYSIS OF GRASS TRANSFORMANTS EXPRESSING THE AtH1 GENE DERIVED FROM ARABIDOPSIS THALIANA RT-PCR positive plants were vernalised (70 days at 4°C), together with control plants (RT-PCR negative plants, PCR negative plants, and non-transformed plants). While control plants formed large numbers of inflorescences under Long Day (LD) conditions in the greenhouse (3-6 weeks after transfer from vernalisation to LD conditions), several RT-PCR positive plants continued to form leaves, became very leafy, and had not formed inflorescences 4 months after transfer to LD conditions (Fig. 10). Some RT-PCR positive plants formed only one or two inflorescences about four months after transfer to LD conditions. The overall result is given in Table 4.
Table 4. Summary of flowering experiment using AtH1 expressers of Lolium RT-PCR positive plants Non-transformed control plants Total # of plants 185 101 # of non-flowering plants 34 1 EXAMPLE 5: TRANSFORMATION OF POA PRATENSIS L.
Embryogenic suspension cultures of Poa pratensis L. (Kentucky bluegrass) (cv. Geronimo) are established according to Nielsen and Knudsen (1998). Genetic transformation for suspension cultures are carried out as described by Spangenberg et al. (1995b) and transformation is with pVDH636, using the particle inflow gun (PIG). The tissue which is transformed is selected, using hygromycin B, according to Spangenberg et al. (1995b).
EXAMPLE 6: TRANSFORMATION OF FESTUCA ARUNDINACEA AND FESTUCA RUBRA Embryogenic suspension cultures of tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) or red fescue (Festuca rubra L.) are established, and are then subjected to genetic transformation with pVDH636 according to Spangenberg et al. (1995b).
Filters with an embryogenic suspension culture are subjected to bombardment with gold particles coated with the transformation vectors. Transformed tissues can be selected using hygromycin B in accordance with Spangenberg et al. (1995b).
EXAMPLE 7: HERBICIDE RESISTANCE AS A TRAIT LINKED TO A GENE INHIBITING INDUCTION OF FLOWERING IN GRASSES Transformants exhibiting a clear non-flowering phenotype (i. e., substantial inhibition of flowering under vernalising conditions) were used to-demonstrate the functionality in vivo of a transgenic trait increasing chemical resistance of a grass when this trait is genetically linked to the genetic modification. A control group of non-transformed Lolium plants as well as a group of clonally propagated transgenic Lolium plants transformed with pVDH636 and inhibited in flowering were exposed to a phytotoxic compound through foliar application solution of hygromycin B. The control plants showed severe damage as a consequence of the treatment with hygromycin B. However, the non-flowering transformants are able to survive this treatment as a consequence of the presence of a genetically linked functional hygromycin resistance gene.
EXAMPLE 8: GENETIC TRANSFORMATION OF GRASS FOR BOTH INHIBITION OF GENERATIVE PROPAGATION AND HERBICIDE RESISTANCE Embryogenic suspension cultures of perennial ryegrass, tall fescue, and red fescue are established as described above, and are genetically transformed, using mixtures of plasmid pVDH636 and pUBA (Toki et al., 1992). Selection of transformed tissues is carried out using hygromycin as described. Non-flowering plants are sprayed with a 1 % (v/v) Basta (glufosinate) solution containing 0. 1 % (v/v) Tween 20 (Toki et al., 1992), in order to detect plants that are both non-flowering and herbicide- resistant.
The usefulness of a non-flowering herbicide-resistant grass is self evident. It avoids the issues of the herbicide resistant being spread to other species of grass or
to weeds. The invention can be made with a glufosinate-resistant gene such as Pat or Bar (see EP 0257542 and EP 0275957), a glyphosate gene such as the monocot gene (see U. S. 5,554,798), or a gene of the EPSP class (see U. S. 4,940,835).
Additionally, resistance to herbicides containing imidazolinones (e. g., Pursuit), can be introduced with the gene encoding a mutant AHAS enzyme (see U. S. 5,731,180).
Furthermore, the combination of (1) a known gene that confers herbicide or pest resistance and (2) a genetic modification which inhibits generative propagation is also envisioned.
EXAMPLE 9: REVERSING NON-FLOWERING IN GRASS WITH GIBBERELLIN All independent transformed plants, expressing the ATH1-gene, were cloned to form two sets of plants. All plants were vernalized (16 hr dark/8 hr light at 4°C for 70 days). After the vernalization period the plants were subjected to Long Day conditions (16 hr light/8 hr dark at 18°C). One set of all transgenics was treated with gibberellic acid (GA3) (3 x 10-5 M GA3 in 5% ethanol by spraying) weekly for four weeks, starting at the start of the LD-period. The other set of plants was sprayed with 5% ethanol. At least some GA3-treated plants are expected to form inflorescences, while the untreated counterparts of the same event will not form inflorescences. This result will show that GA3 can switch the ATH1-induced inhibition of flowering in L. perenne to the normal flowering mode. This reversal of phenotype may be enhanced by chemical penetration agents (e. g., DSMO, ethanol, surfactants) or by exposing the meristem to gibberellin by trimming away tillers and other vegetative growth.
EXAMPLE 10: RELIEVING DELAYED HEADING IN GRASS WITH GIBBERELLIN Primary transformants derived from Lolium perenne L. (perennial ryegrass) using pVDH636 were vernalized and then subjected to Long Day (LD) conditions in the greenhouse (17 hr light/7 hr dark). ManyAtH1-expressing transformants (i. e., RT-PCR positive) showed delayed heading, an important plant characteristic of grass, as compared to non-expressing transformant or non-transformant controls.
Several plants failed to flower three months after transfer to LD conditions. AtH1- expressing plants are generally very leafy (Fig. 10).
Several AtH1-expressing transformants (15-20 clones per transformant, three replications), which showed the delayed heading phenotype conferred by the AtH1
transgene, were clonally propagated, vernalised in the winter, and then subjected to a second round of LD conditions the following spring.
Four different gibberellin compounds, which differ in their florigenicity (Evans et al., used to treat 3-4 clones per compound and their effect on heading time of transformants and controls was observed. Gibberellin was applied in solvent (5% ethanol supplemented with 0.01 % Tween-20 surfactant) at 30 mg/L. It was applied by spraying six times with about 2-3 ml per plant over two weeks, started one week after the beginning of LD conditions. Mean heading time is shown in days after the first spraying. Non-transformant controls were treated with the solvent only.
Transformant (T) and non-transformant (NT) control plants (Table 5) were treated with the indicated gibberellin. GA5 significantly stimulated heading, and GA20 somewhat delayed heading, as compared to non-treated controls. Variation between transformants for their sensitivity to gibberellins could be great.
Table 5. Relief of Delayed Heading by Gibberellins (GA) Treatment Mean Heading Time T-GA5 33. 5 a T-GA3 34. 1 ab T-diHGA5 34. 2 ab T-GA20 37. 8 b T-no GA 37. 7 b NT-no GA 29. 9 a Different superscripted letters indicate statistically significant differences in mean heading time (= 0.05 ANOVA).
Transformant (T) plants were grouped into PCR positive (+) or PCR negative (-) for all gibberellin treatments, and compared to non-transformant (NT) control plants (Table 6). Only transformants harbouring the AtH1 transgene on average head later than those lacking the gene. Differences between transformants were great. Mean heading times ranged from about 27 days to about 59 days after the first spraying.
Table 6. Relief Requires the Presence of the AtH1 Transgene Treatment Mean Heading Time T-PCR (+) 37.3 b T-PCR (-) 33.6 a NT-no GA
Different superscripted letters indicate statistically significant differences in mean heading time (= 0. 05 ANOVA).
Transformant plants were grouped into Taqman assay positive or PCR (+) or Taqman assay negative or PCR (-), and compared to non-transformant control plants (Table 7). This allows differences to be seen between transformants that transcribe or do not transcribe the AtH1 transgene. AtH1-expressing transformants on average head later than those not expressing the transgene. Tissue culture and particle bombardment can also cause delayed heading in Lolium perenne (Stadelmann et al., 1998).
Table 7. Relief Requires Expression of the AtH1 Transgene Treatment Mean Heading Time PCR (+) expressing 48. 7 ° PCR (-) 42.6b NT 32. 4 a Different superscripted letters indicate statistically significant differences in mean heading time (= 0.05 ANOVA).
REFERENCES Christensen et al. (1992) Plant Mol. Biol. 18,675-689 Evans et al. (1990) Planta 182,97-106 Finer et al. (1992) Plant Cell Reports 11,323-328 McElroy et al. (1991) Mol. Gen. Genetics 231,150-160 Nielsen and Knudsen (1998) J. Plant Physiol. 141,589-595
Quaedviieg et al. (1995) Plant Cell 7,117-129 Spangenberg et al. (1995a) Plant Science 108,209-217 Spangenberg et al. (1995b) J. Plant Physiol. 145,693-701 Stadelmann et al. (1998) Theor. Appl. Genet. 96,634-639 Toki et al. (1992) Plant Physiol. 100,1503-1507 All publications cited herein are incorporated by reference and indicate the level of skill in the art.
While the invention has been described in connection with what is presently considered to be practical and preferred embodiments, it should be understood that it is not to be limited or restricted to the disclosed embodiments but, on the contrary, is intended to cover various modifications, substitutions, and combinations within the scope of the appended claims. In this respect, it should be noted that the protection conferred by the claims is determined after their issuance in view of later technical developments and would extend to all legal equivalents.
Therefore, it is to be understood that variations in the invention that are not described herein will be obvious to a person skilled in the art and could be practiced without departing from the invention's novel and non-obvious elements with the proviso that the prior art is excluded.
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