Chloroplast genetic engineering, Cytoplasmic male sterility, Heterologous operons, Mercury phytoremediation, Posttranscriptional modifications


The vast majority of valuable agronomic traits are encoded polygenetically. Chloroplast genetic engineering offers an alternate approach to multigene engineering by allowing the insertion of entire pathways in a single transformation event, while being an environmentally friendly approach. Stable integration into the chloroplast genome and transcription of the phaA gene coding for β-ketothiolase was confirmed by Southern and northern blots. Coomassie-stained gel and western blots confirmed hyperexpression of β-ketothiolase in leaves and anthers, with high enzyme activity. The transgenic lines were normal except for the male sterile phenotype, lacking pollen. Scanning electron microscopy revealed a collapsed morphology of the pollen grains. Transgenic lines followed an accelerated anther developmental pattern, affecting their development and maturation, resulting in aberrant tissue patterns. Abnormal thickening of the outer wall, enlarged endothecium and vacuolation, decreased the inner space of the locules, affecting pollen grain and resulted in the irregular shape and collapsed phenotype. Reversibility of the male sterility phenotype was achieved by exposing the plants to continuous illumination, producing viable pollen and copious amounts of seeds. This is the first report of engineered cytoplasmic male sterility and offers a new tool for transgene containment for both nuclear and organelle genomes. Detailed characterization of transcriptional, posttranscriptional and translational processes of heterologous operons expressed via the chloroplast genome is reported here. Northern blot analyses performed on chloroplast transgenic lines harboring seven different heterologous operons, revealed that in most cases, only polycistronic mRNA was produced or polycistrons were the most abundant form and that they were not processed into monocistrons. Despite such lack of processing, abundant foreign protein accumulation was detected in these transgenic lines. Interestingly, a stable secondary structure formed from a heterologous bacterial intergenic sequence was recognized and efficiently processed, indicating that the chloroplast posttranscriptional machinery can indeed recognize sequences that are not of chloroplast origin, retaining its prokaryotic ancestral features. Processed and unprocessed heterologous polycistrons were quite stable even in the absence of 3'UTRs and were efficiently translated. Unlike native 5'UTRs, heterologous secondary structures or 5'UTRs showed efficient translational enhancement independent of any cellular control. Finally, we observed abundant read-through transcription in the presence of chloroplast 3'UTRs. Such read-through transcripts were efficiently processed at introns present within native operons. Addressing questions about polycistrons, as well as the sequences required for their processing and transcript stability are essential for future approaches in metabolic engineering. Finally, we have shown phytoremediation of mercury by engineering the mer operon via the chloroplast genome under the regulation of chloroplast native and heterologous 5'UTRs. These transgenenic plants hyperexpress were able to translate MerA and MerB enzymes to levels detectable by coomassie stained gel. The knowledge acquired from these studies offer guidelines for engineering multigene pathways via the chloroplast genome.


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Graduation Date





Daniell, Henry


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Health and Public Affairs


Biomolecular Science

Degree Program

Biomolecular Science








Release Date

January 2004

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Health and Public Affairs; Health and Public Affairs -- Dissertations, Academic