Development of grass-endophyte associations with minimal or no detrimental effects in combination with beneficial characteristics is important for pastoral agriculture. The feasibility of enhancing production of an endophyte-derived beneficial alkaloid through introduction of an additional gene copy was assessed in a proof-of-concept study. Sexual and asexual Epichloë species that form symbiotic associations with cool-season grasses of the Poaceae sub-family Pooideae produce bioactive alkaloids that confer resistance to herbivory by a number of organisms. Of these, peramine is thought to be crucial for protection of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) from the Argentinian stem weevil, an economically important exotic pest in New Zealand, contributing significantly to pasture persistence. A single gene (perA) has been identified as solely responsible for peramine biosynthesis and is distributed widely across Epichloë taxa. In the present study, a functional copy of the perA gene was introduced into three recipient endophyte genomes by Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated transformation. The target strains included some that do not produce peramine, and others containing different perA gene copies. Mitotically stable transformants generated from all three endophyte strains were able to produce peramine in culture and in planta at variable levels. In summary, this study provides an insight into the potential for artificial combinations of alkaloid biosynthesis in a single endophyte strain through transgenesis, as well as the possibility of using novel genome editing techniques to edit the perA gene of non-peramine producing strains.
Keywords: Epichloë; Metabolic profiling; Pasture grass; Peramine; Transformation.