Genetic modification of photosynthesis with E. coli genes for trehalose synthesis

Plant Biotechnol J. 2004 Jan;2(1):71-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7652.2004.00053.x.


Improvement in photosynthesis per unit leaf area has been difficult to alter by breeding or genetic modification. We report large changes in photosynthesis in Nicotiana tabacum transformed with E. coli genes for the trehalose pathway. Significantly, photosynthetic capacity (CO2 assimilation at varying light and CO2, and quantum yield of PSII electron transport) per unit leaf area and per leaf dry weight were increased in lines of N. tabacum transformed with the E. coli gene otsA, which encodes trehalose phosphate synthase. In contrast, transformation with otsB, which encodes trehalose phosphate phosphatase or Trec, encoding trehalose phosphate hydrolase, produced the opposite effect. Changes in CO2 assimilation per unit leaf area were closely related to the amount and activity of Rubisco, but not to the maximum activities of other Calvin cycle enzymes. Alterations in photosynthesis were associated with trehalose 6-phosphate content rather than trehalose. When growth parameters were determined, a greater photosynthetic capacity did not translate into greater relative growth rate or biomass. This was because photosynthetic capacity was negatively related to leaf area and leaf area ratio. In contrast, relative growth rate and biomass were positively related to leaf area. These results demonstrate a novel means of modifying Rubisco content and photosynthesis, and the complexities of regulation of photosynthesis at the whole plant level, with potential benefits to biomass production through improved leaf area.