The chloroplast transformation toolbox: selectable markers and marker removal

Plant Biotechnol J. 2011 Jun;9(5):540-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7652.2011.00604.x. Epub 2011 Mar 23.


Plastid transformation is widely used in basic research and for biotechnological applications. Initially developed in Chlamydomonas and tobacco, it is now feasible in a broad range of species. Selection of transgenic lines where all copies of the polyploid plastid genome are transformed requires efficient markers. A number of traits have been used for selection such as photoautotrophy, resistance to antibiotics and tolerance to herbicides or to other metabolic inhibitors. Restoration of photosynthesis is an effective primary selection method in Chlamydomonas but can only serve as a screening tool in flowering plants. The most successful and widely used markers are derived from bacterial genes that inactivate antibiotics, such as aadA that confers resistance to spectinomycin and streptomycin. For many applications, the presence of a selectable marker that confers antibiotic resistance is not desirable. Efficient marker removal methods are a major attraction of the plastid engineering tool kit. They exploit the homologous recombination and segregation pathways acting on chloroplast genomes and are based on direct repeats, transient co-integration or co-transformation and segregation of trait and marker genes. Foreign site-specific recombinases and their target sites provide an alternative and effective method for removing marker genes from plastids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chloroplasts / genetics*
  • Genes, Plant
  • Genetic Engineering / methods
  • Genetic Markers / genetics*
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / genetics*
  • Transformation, Genetic*


  • Genetic Markers