Background: The green-fluorescent protein (GFP) of the jellyfish Aequorea victoria has recently been used as a universal reporter in a broad range of heterologous living cells and organisms. Although successful in some plant transient expression assays based on strong promoters or high copy number viral vectors, further improvement of expression efficiency and fluorescent intensity are required for GFP to be useful as a marker in intact plants. Here, we report that an extensively modified GFP is a versatile and sensitive reporter in a variety of living plant cells and in transgenic plants.
Results: We show that a re-engineered GFP gene sequence, with the favored codons of highly expressed human proteins, gives 20-fold higher GFP expression in maize leaf cells than the original jellyfish GFP sequence. When combined with a mutation in the chromophore, the replacement of the serine at position 65 with a threonine, the new GFP sequence gives more than 100-fold brighter fluorescent signals upon excitation with 490 nm (blue) light, and swifter chromophore formation. We also show that this modified GFP has a broad use in various transient expression systems, and allows the easy detection of weak promoter activity, visualization of protein targeting into the nucleus and various plastids, and analysis of signal transduction pathways in living single cells and in transgenic plants.
Conclusions: The modified GFP is a simple and economical new tool for the direct visualization of promoter activities with a broad range of strength and cell specificity. It can be used to measure dynamic responses of signal transduction pathways, transfection efficiency, and subcellular localization of chimeric proteins, and should be suitable for many other applications in genetically modified living cells and tissues of higher plants. The data also suggest that the codon usage effect might be universal, allowing the design of recombinant proteins with high expression efficiency in evolutionarily distant species such as humans and maize.