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Non-recombinant background in gene targeting: illegitimate recombination between a hpt gene and a defective 5' deleted nptII gene can restore a Km(r) phenotype in tobacco

Groot, M.J.A. de., Offringa, R., Groet, J., Does, M.P., Hooykaas, P.J.J., Elzen, P.J.M. van den.
Plant molecular biology 1994 v.25 no.4 pp. 721-733
gene transfer, kanamycin, structural genes, phenotype, transgenic plants, Agrobacterium radiobacter, homologous recombination, phosphotransferases (phosphomutases), Nicotiana tabacum, reporter genes, callus, drug resistance
Previously we have demonstrated gene targeting in plants after Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. In these initial experiments a transgenic tobacco line 104 containing a T-DNA insertion with a defective neomycin phosphotransferase (nptII) gene was transformed with a repair construct containing an otherwise defective nptII gene. Homologous recombination between the chromosomally located target and the incoming complementary defective nptII construct generated an intact nptII gene and led to a kanamycin-resistant (Kmr) phenotype. The gene targeting frequency was 1 X 10(-5). In order to compare direct gene transfer and Agrobacterium-mediated transformation with respect to gene targeting we transformed the same transgenic tobacco line 104 via electroporation. A total of 1.35 X 10(8) protoplasts were transformed with the repair construct. Out of nearly 221 000 transformed cells 477 Kmr calli were selected. Screening the Kmr calli via PCR for recombination events revealed that in none of these calli gene targeting had occurred. To establish the origin of the high number of Kmr calli in which gene targeting had not occurred we analysed plants regenerated from 24 Kmr calli via PCR and sequence analysis. This revealed that in 21 out of 24 plants analysed the 5'-deleted nptII gene was fused to the hygromycin phosphotransferase (hpt) gene that was also present on the repair construct. Sequence analysis of 7 hpt/nptII gene fusions showed that they all contained a continuous open reading frame. The absence of significant homology at the fusion site indicated that fusion occurred via a process of illegitimate recombination. Therefore, illegitimate recombination between an introduced defective gene and another gene present on the repair construct or the chromosome has to be taken into account as a standard by product in gene targeting experiments.