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Keywords:

  • plastid;
  • chromoplasts;
  • plastid transformation;
  • Solanum lycopersicum ;
  • transcription;
  • translation;
  • GFP

Summary

Non-green plastids, such as chromoplasts, generally have much lower activity of gene expression than chloroplasts in photosynthetically active tissues. Suppression of plastid genes in non-green tissues occurs through a complex interplay of transcriptional and translational control, with the contribution of regulation of transcript abundance versus translational activity being highly variable between genes. Here, we have investigated whether the low expression of the plastid genome in chromoplasts results from inherent limitations in gene expression capacity, or can be overcome by designing appropriate combinations of promoters and translation initiation signals in the 5′ untranslated region (5′–UTR). We constructed chimeric expression elements that combine promoters and 5′–UTRs from plastid genes, which are suppressed during chloroplast-to-chromoplast conversion in Solanum lycopersicum (tomato) fruit ripening, either just at the translational level or just at the level of mRNA accumulation. These chimeric expression elements were introduced into the tomato plastid genome by stable chloroplast transformation. We report the identification of promoter-UTR combinations that confer high-level gene expression in chromoplasts of ripe tomato fruits, resulting in the accumulation of reporter protein GFP to up to 1% of total cellular protein. Our work demonstrates that non-green plastids are capable of expressing genes to high levels. Moreover, the chimeric cis-elements for chromoplasts developed here are widely applicable in basic and applied research using transplastomic methods.