Background: As the first pathway-specific enzyme in carotenoid biosynthesis, phytoene synthase (PSY) is a prime regulatory target. This includes a number of biotechnological approaches that have successfully increased the carotenoid content in agronomically relevant non-green plant tissues through tissue-specific PSY overexpression. We investigated the differential effects of constitutive AtPSY overexpression in green and non-green cells of transgenic Arabidopsis lines. This revealed striking similarities to the situation found in orange carrot roots with respect to carotenoid amounts and sequestration mechanism.
Methodology/principal findings: In Arabidopsis seedlings, carotenoid content remained unaffected by increased AtPSY levels although the protein was almost quantitatively imported into plastids, as shown by western blot analyses. In contrast, non-photosynthetic calli and roots overexpressing AtPSY accumulated carotenoids 10 and 100-fold above the corresponding wild-type tissues and contained 1800 and 500 microg carotenoids per g dry weight, respectively. This increase coincided with a change of the pattern of accumulated carotenoids, as xanthophylls decreased relative to beta-carotene and carotene intermediates accumulated. As shown by polarization microscopy, carotenoids were found deposited in crystals, similar to crystalline-type chromoplasts of non-green tissues present in several other taxa. In fact, orange-colored carrots showed a similar situation with increased PSY protein as well as carotenoid levels and accumulation patterns whereas wild white-rooted carrots were similar to Arabidopsis wild type roots in this respect. Initiation of carotenoid crystal formation by increased PSY protein amounts was further confirmed by overexpressing crtB, a bacterial PSY gene, in white carrots, resulting in increased carotenoid amounts deposited in crystals.
Conclusions: The sequestration of carotenoids into crystals can be driven by the functional overexpression of one biosynthetic enzyme in non-green plastids not requiring a chromoplast developmental program as this does not exist in Arabidopsis. Thus, PSY expression plays a major, rate-limiting role in the transition from white to orange-colored carrots.