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Developmental abnormalities associated with deoxyadenosine methylation in transgenic tobacco

Van Blokland, R., Ross, S., Corrado, G., Scollan, C., Meyer, P.
The plant journal 1998 v.15 no.4 pp. 543-551
adenosine, plant development, phenotype, methylation, transgenic plants, DNA, plasmid vectors, flowers, gene expression, apical dominance, Nicotiana tabacum, bacterial proteins, abnormal development, color, toxicity, plant morphology, transferases, promoter regions, leaves
As in other higher eukaryotes, DNA methylation in plants is predominantly found at deoxycytosine residues, while deoxyadenosine residues are not methylated at significant levels. 6mdA methylation has been successfully introduced into yeast and Drosophila via expression of a heterologous methyltransferase, but similar attempts in tobacco had, up until now, proved unsuccessful despite the correct expression of a methyltransferase construct. It was unclear whether this result reflected the failure of heterologous methyltransferases to enter the nucleus, or whether 6mdA methylation, which has been shown to interfere with promoter activity, was toxic for plants. Here we show that 6mdA methylation can be successfully introduced into transgenic tobacco plants via expression of the bacterial dam enzyme. The efficiency of 6mdA methylation was directly proportional to expression levels of the dam construct, and methylation of all GATC sites was observed in a highly expressing line. Increasing expression levels of the enzyme in different plants correlated with increasingly abnormal phenotypes affecting leaf pigmentation, apical dominance, and leaf and floral structure. Whilst introduction of dam-specific methylation does not cause any developmental abnormalities in yeast or Drosophila, our data suggest that methylation of deoxyadenine residues in plants interferes with the expression of genes involved in leaf and floral development.