• Open Access

Synthetic TAL effectors for targeted enhancement of transgene expression in plants


  • [Correction added on 16 September 2014, after first publication: author's affiliation has been amended.]


Transcription activator-like effectors (TALEs), secreted by the pathogenic bacteria Xanthomonas, specifically activate expression of targeted genes in plants. Here, we designed synthetic TALEs that bind to the flanking regions of the TATA-box motif on the CaMV 35S promoter for the purpose of understanding the engineerable ‘hot-spots’ for increasing transgene expression. We demonstrated that transient expression of de novo-engineered TALEs using agroinfiltration could significantly increase reporter gene expression in stable transgenic tobacco expressing the orange fluorescent protein reporter gene pporRFP under the control of synthetic inducible, minimal or full-length 35S promoters. Moreover, the additive effects of a combination of two different synthetic TALEs could significantly enhance the activation effects of TALEs on reporter gene expression more than when each TALE was used individually. We also studied the effects of the C-terminal domain and the activation domain of synthetic TALEs, as well as the best ‘hot-spots’ on the 35S promoter on targeted transgene activation. Furthermore, TALE activation of the Arabidopsis MYB transcription factor AtPAP1 (PRODUCTION OF ANTHOCYANIN PIGMENT 1) in stable transgenic tobacco gave rise to a dark purple colour on infiltrated leaves when driven by four copies of cis-regulatory elements of pathogenesis-related gene (PR1) with enhancer motifs B and A1 from the 35S promoter. These results provide novel insights into the potential applications of synthetic TALEs for targeted gene activation of transgenes in plants.