Introduction of a Chimeric Chalcone Synthase Gene into Petunia Results in Reversible Co-Suppression of Homologous Genes in trans

Plant Cell. 1990 Apr;2(4):279-289. doi: 10.1105/tpc.2.4.279.


We attempted to overexpress chalcone synthase (CHS) in pigmented petunia petals by introducing a chimeric petunia CHS gene. Unexpectedly, the introduced gene created a block in anthocyanin biosynthesis. Forty-two percent of plants with the introduced CHS gene produced totally white flowers and/or patterned flowers with white or pale nonclonal sectors on a wild-type pigmented background; none of hundreds of transgenic control plants exhibited such phenotypes. Progeny testing of one plant demonstrated that the novel color phenotype co-segregated with the introduced CHS gene; progeny without this gene were phenotypically wild type. The somatic and germinal stability of the novel color patterns was variable. RNase protection analysis of petal RNAs isolated from white flowers showed that, although the developmental timing of mRNA expression of the endogenous CHS gene was not altered, the level of the mRNA produced by this gene was reduced 50-fold from wild-type levels. Somatic reversion of plants with white flowers to phenotypically parental violet flowers was associated with a coordinate rise in the steady-state levels of the mRNAs produced by both the endogenous and the introduced CHS genes. Thus, in the altered white flowers, the expression of both genes was coordinately suppressed, indicating that expression of the introduced CHS gene was not alone sufficient for suppression of endogenous CHS transcript levels. The mechanism responsible for the reversible co-suppression of homologous genes in trans is unclear, but the erratic and reversible nature of this phenomenon suggests the possible involvement of methylation.