In higher plants, DNA transfer from the plastid (chloroplast) genome to the nucleus is a frequent, ongoing process. However, there has been uncertainty over whether this transfer occurs by a direct DNA mechanism or whether RNA intermediates are involved. Previous experiments utilising transplastomic Nicotiana tabacum (tp7 and tp17) enabled the detection of plastid-to-nucleus transfer in real time. To determine whether RNA intermediates are involved in this transfer, transplastomic lines (tpneoACG) were generated containing, in their plastid genomes, a nuclear promoter-driven kanamycin resistance gene (neo) with a start codon that required plastid RNA editing but otherwise identical to tp7 and tp17. Therefore it was expected that kanamycin resistance would only be acquired following RNA-mediated transfer of neo to the nucleus. Screening of tpneoACG progeny revealed several kanamycin-resistant plants, each of which contained the neo gene located in the nucleus. Surprisingly, neo was unedited in all these plants, indicating that neoACG was active in the absence of an edited start codon and suggesting that RNA intermediates were not involved in the transfers. However, analysis of tpneoACG revealed that only a low proportion of transcripts potentially able to mediate neo transfer were edited, thus precluding unequivocal conclusions regarding the role of RNA in plastid-to-nucleus transfer. The low proportion of edited transcripts was found to be due to predominant antisense neo transcripts, rather than to low editing efficiency of the sense transcripts. This study highlights a number of important considerations in the design of experiments utilising plastid RNA editing. The results also suggest that RNA editing sites reduce but do not eliminate functional plastid-to-nucleus gene transfer. This is relevant both in an evolutionary context and in placing RNA editing-dependent genes in the plastid genome as a means of transgene containment.
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011