1,4,5,6-Tetrahydro-2-methyl-4-pyrimidinecarboxylic acid (ectoine) functions as a compatible osmolyte in the moderate halophile Halomonas elongata OUT30018. Ectoine is biosynthesized by three successive enzyme reactions from aspartic beta-semialdehyde. The genes encoding the enzymes involved in the biosynthesis, ectA, ectB, and ectC, encoding L-2,4-diaminobutyric acid acetyltransferase, L-2, 4-diaminobutyric acid transaminase, and L-ectoine synthase, respectively, have been previously cloned. To investigate the function of ectoine as a compatible solute in plant cells, the three genes were individually placed under the control of the cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter and introduced together into cultured tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.) cv Bright Yellow 2 (BY2) cells. The transgenic BY2 cells accumulated a small quantity of ectoine (14-79 nmol g(-1) fresh weight) and showed increased tolerance to hyperosmotic shock (900 mOsm). Furthermore, the transgenic BY2 cells exhibited a normal growth pattern even under hyperosmotic conditions (up to 530 mOsm), in which the growth of the untransformed BY2 (wild type) cells was obviously delayed. These results suggest that genetically engineered synthesis of ectoine results in the increased hyperosmotic tolerance of cultured tobacco BY2 cells despite the low level of accumulation of the solute.