The redistribution of protein sulfur in transgenic rice expressing a gene for a foreign, sulfur-rich protein


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Sulfur amino acid composition is an important determinant of seed protein quality. A chimeric gene encoding sunflower seed albumin (SSA), one of the most sulfur-rich seed storage proteins identified so far, was introduced into rice (Oryza sativa) in order to modify cysteine and methionine content of the seed. Analysis of a transgenic line expressing SSA at approximately 7% of total seed protein revealed that the mature grain showed little change in the total sulfur amino acid content compared to the parental genotype. This result indicated that the transgenic rice grain was unable to respond to the added demand for cysteine and methionine imposed by the production of SSA. Analysis of the protein composition of the transgenic grain showed changes in the relative levels of the major seed storage proteins, as well as some non-storage proteins, compared to non-transgenic controls. Changes observed at the protein level were concomitant with differences in mRNA accumulation but not always with the level of transcription. The limited sulfur reserves appeared to be re-allocated from endogenous proteins to the new sulfur sink in the transgenic grain. We hypothesize that this response is mediated by a signal transduction pathway that normally modulates seed storage protein composition in response to environmental fluctuations in sulfur availability, via both transcriptional and post-transcriptional control of gene expression.