Iron-Superoxide Dismutase Expression in Transgenic Alfalfa Increases Winter Survival without a Detectable Increase in Photosynthetic Oxidative Stress Tolerance
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To determine whether overexpression of Fe-superoxide (SOD) dismutase would increase superoxide-scavenging capacity and thereby improve the winter survival of transgenic alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) plants, two genotypes were transformed with the vector pEXSOD10, which contains a cDNA for Arabidopsis Fe-SOD with a chloroplast transit peptide and cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter. A novel Fe-SOD was detected by native PAGE in both greenhouse- and field-grown transgenic plants, but activity varied among independent transgenic plants. The increased Fe-SOD activity was associated with increased winter survival over 2 years in field trials, but not with oxidative stress tolerance as measured by resistance of leaves to methyl viologen, a superoxide generator. Total shoot dry matter production over 2 harvest years was not associated with Fe-SOD activity. There was no detectable difference in the pattern of primary freezing injury, as shown by vital staining, nor was there additional accumulation of carbohydrates in field-acclimated roots of the transgenic alfalfa plants. We did not detect any difference in growth of one transgenic plant with high Fe-SOD activity compared with a non-transgenic control. Therefore, the improvement in winter survival did not appear to be a consequence of improved oxidative stress tolerance associated with photosynthesis, nor was it a consequence of a change in primary freezing injury. We suggest that Fe-SOD overexpression reduced secondary injury symptoms and thereby enhanced recovery from stresses experienced during winter.
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