An Assessment of Engineered Calcium Oxalate Crystal Formation on Plant Growth and Development as a Step toward Evaluating Its Use to Enhance Plant Defense

PLoS One. 2015 Oct 30;10(10):e0141982. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141982. eCollection 2015.


The establishment of new approaches to control chewing insects has been sought not only for direct use in reducing crop loss but also in managing resistance to the pesticides already in use. Engineered formation of calcium oxalate crystals is a potential strategy that could be developed to fulfill both these needs. As a step toward this development, this study investigates the effects of transforming a non-calcium oxalate crystal accumulating plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, into a crystal accumulating plant. Calcium oxalate crystal accumulating A. thaliana lines were generated by ectopic expression of a single bacterial gene encoding an oxalic acid biosynthetic enzyme. Biochemical and cellular studies suggested that the engineered A. thaliana lines formed crystals of calcium oxalate in a manner similar to naturally occurring crystal accumulating plants. The amount of calcium oxalate accumulated in leaves also reached levels similar to those measured in the leaves of Medicago truncatula in which the crystals are known to play a defensive role. Visual inspection of the different engineered lines, however, suggested a phenotypic consequence on plant growth and development with higher calcium oxalate concentrations. The restoration of a near wild-type plant phenotype through an enzymatic reduction of tissue oxalate supported this observation. Overall, this study is a first to provide initial insight into the potential consequences of engineering calcium oxalate crystal formation in non-crystal accumulating plants.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Arabidopsis / growth & development
  • Arabidopsis / immunology
  • Arabidopsis / metabolism*
  • Calcium Oxalate / metabolism*
  • Oxalic Acid / metabolism
  • Plant Immunity
  • Transgenes


  • Calcium Oxalate
  • Oxalic Acid

Grants and funding

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, 58-3092-5-001. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.