Expression of a carotenogenic gene allows faster biomass production by redesigning plant architecture and improving photosynthetic efficiency in tobacco

Moreno J.C., Mi J., Agrawal S., Kössler S., Turečková V., Tarkowská D., Thiele W., Al-Babili S., Bock R., Schöttler M.
PLANT JOURNAL 103: 1967-1984, 2020

Keywords: beta-carotene, gibberellins, ABA, biomass, photosynthesis, carotenoids, Nicotiana tabacum
Abstract: Because carotenoids act as accessory pigments in photosynthesis, play a key photoprotective role and are of major nutritional importance, carotenogenesis has been a target for crop improvement. Although carotenoids are important precursors of phytohormones, previous genetic manipulations reported little if any effects on biomass production and plant development, but resulted in specific modifications in carotenoid content. Unexpectedly, the expression of the carrot lycopene beta-cyclase (DcLCYB1) in Nicotiana tabacum cv. Xanthi not only resulted in increased carotenoid accumulation, but also in altered plant architecture characterized by longer internodes, faster plant growth, early flowering and increased biomass. Here, we have challenged these transformants with a range of growth conditions to determine the robustness of their phenotype and analyze the underlying mechanisms. Transgenic DcLCYB1 lines showed increased transcript levels of key genes involved in carotenoid, chlorophyll, gibberellin (GA) and abscisic acid (ABA) biosynthesis, but also in photosynthesis-related genes. Accordingly, their carotenoid, chlorophyll, ABA and GA contents were increased. Hormone application and inhibitor experiments confirmed the key role of altered GA/ ABA contents in the growth phenotype. Because the longer internodes reduce shading of mature leaves, induction of leaf senescence was delayed, and mature leaves maintained a high photosynthetic capacity. This increased total plant assimilation, as reflected in higher plant yields under both fully controlled constant and fluctuating light, and in non-controlled conditions. Furthermore, our data are a warning that engineering of isoprenoid metabolism can cause complex changes in phytohormone homeostasis and therefore plant development, which have not been sufficiently considered in previous studies.
DOI: 10.1111/tpj.14909 IEB authors: Danuše Tarkowská