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Isolation and Characterization of the Z-ISO Gene Encoding a Missing Component of Carotenoid Biosynthesis in Plants

Chen, Yu, Li, Faqiang, Wurtzel, Eleanore T.
Plant physiology 2010 v.153 no.1 pp. 66-79
Arabidopsis thaliana, Bacillariophyta, Escherichia coli, Zea mays, ancestry, bacteria, biosynthesis, corn, denitrification, electron transport chain, electrons, endosperm, food crops, genes, genomics, human health, isomerization, mutants, nitric oxide, nitrites, product testing, recruitment, redox reactions
Metabolic engineering of plant carotenoids in food crops has been a recent focus for improving human health. Pathway manipulation is predicated on comprehensive knowledge of this biosynthetic pathway, which has been extensively studied. However, there existed the possibility of an additional biosynthetic step thought to be dispensable because it could be compensated for by light. This step, mediated by a putative Z-ISO, was predicted to occur in the sequence of redox reactions that are coupled to an electron transport chain and convert the colorless 15-cis-phytoene to the red-colored all-trans-lycopene. The enigma of carotenogenesis in the absence of light (e.g. in endosperm, a target for improving nutritional content) argued for Z-ISO as a pathway requirement. Therefore, understanding of plant carotenoid biosynthesis was obviously incomplete. To prove the existence of Z-ISO, maize (Zea mays) and Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) mutants were isolated and the gene identified. Functional testing of the gene product in Escherichia coli showed isomerization of the 15-cis double bond in 9,15,9'-tri-cis-ζ-carotene, proving that Z-ISO encoded the missing step. Z-ISO was found to be important for both light-exposed and "dark" tissues. Comparative genomics illuminated the origin of Z-ISO found throughout higher and lower plants, algae, diatoms, and cyanobacteria. Z-ISO evolved from an ancestor related to the NnrU (for nitrite and nitric oxide reductase U) gene required for bacterial denitrification, a pathway that produces nitrogen oxides as alternate electron acceptors for anaerobic growth. Therefore, plant carotenogenesis evolved by recruitment of genes from noncarotenogenic bacteria.