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Improvement of drought tolerance by overexpressing MdATG18a is mediated by modified antioxidant system and activated autophagy in transgenic apple

Sun, Xun, Wang, Ping, Jia, Xin, Huo, Liuqing, Che, Runmin, Ma, Fengwang
Plant biotechnology journal 2018 v.16 no.2 pp. 545-557
Arabidopsis thaliana, Malus domestica, antioxidant activity, antioxidants, apples, autophagy, drought, drought tolerance, gene expression regulation, gene overexpression, genes, heterologous gene expression, messenger RNA, oxidation, photosynthesis, protein content, proteins, tomatoes, transcription (genetics), transgenic plants, vacuoles, water stress
Autophagy is a major and conserved pathway for delivering and recycling unwanted proteins or damaged organelles to be degraded in the vacuoles. AuTophaGy‐related (ATG) protein 18a has been established as one of the essential components for autophagy occurrence in Arabidopsis thaliana. We previously cloned the ATG18a homolog from Malus domestica (MdATG18a) and monitored its responsiveness to various abiotic stresses at the transcriptional level. However, it is still unclear what its function is under abiotic stress in apple. Here, we found that heterologous expression of MdATG18a in tomato plants markedly enhanced their tolerance to drought. Overexpression (OE) of that gene in apple plants improved their drought tolerance as well. Under drought conditions, the photosynthesis rate and antioxidant capacity were significantly elevated in OE lines when compared with the untransformed wild type (WT). Transcript levels of other important apple ATG genes were more strongly up‐regulated in transgenic MdATG18a OE lines than in the WT. The percentage of insoluble protein in proportion to total protein was lower and less oxidized protein accumulated in the OE lines than in the WT under drought stress. This was probably due to more autophagosomes being formed in the former. These results demonstrate that overexpression of MdATG18a in apple plants enhances their tolerance to drought stress, probably because of greater autophagosome production and a higher frequency of autophagy. Those processes help degrade protein aggregation and limit the oxidation damage, thereby suggesting that autophagy plays important roles in the drought response.