• Open Access

Field performance of transgenic sugarcane expressing isomaltulose synthase


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Transgenic sugarcane plants expressing a vacuole-targeted isomaltulose (IM) synthase in seven recipient genotypes (elite cultivars) were evaluated over 3 years at a field site typical of commercial cane growing conditions in the Burdekin district of Australia. IM concentration typically increased with internode maturity and comprised up to 217 mm (33% of total sugars) in whole-cane juice. There was generally a comparable decrease in sucrose concentration, with no overall decrease in total sugars. Sugarcane is vegetatively propagated from stem cuttings known as setts. Culture-derived plants were slower to establish and generally gave shorter and thinner stalks at harvest than those grown from field-sourced setts in the initial field generations. However, after several cycles of field propagation, selections were obtained with cane yields similar to the recipient genotypes. There was no apparent adverse effect of IM accumulation on vigour assessed by stalk height and diameter or other visual indicators including germination of setts and establishment of stools. There was some inconsistency in IM levels in juice, between samplings of the vegetatively propagated transgenic lines. Until the causes are resolved, it is prudent to selectively propagate from stalks with higher IM levels in the initial vegetative field generations. Pol/Brix ratio allowed rapid identification of lines with high IM levels, using common sugar industry instruments. Sucrose isomerase activity was low in these transgenic lines, and the results indicate strong potential to develop sugarcane for commercial-scale production of IM if higher activity can be engineered in appropriate developmental patterns.