Winter Survival of Transgenic Alfalfa Overexpressing Superoxide Dismutase
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To test the hypothesis that enhanced tolerance of oxidative stress would improve winter survival, two clones of alfalfa (Medicago sativa) were transformed with a Mn-superoxide dismutase (Mn-SOD) targeted to the mitochondria or to the chloroplast. Although Mn-SOD activity increased in most primary transgenic plants, both cytosolic and chloroplastic forms of Cu/Zn-SOD had lower activity in the chloroplast SOD transgenic plants than in the nontransgenic plants. In a field trial at Elora, Ontario, Canada, the survival and yield of 33 primary transgenic and control plants were compared. After one winter most transgenic plants had higher survival rates than control plants, with some at 100%. Similarly, some independent transgenic plants had twice the herbage yield of the control plants. Prescreening the transgenic plants for SOD activity, vigor, or freezing tolerance in the greenhouse was not effective in identifying individual transgenic plants with improved field performance. Freezing injury to leaf blades and fibrous roots, measured by electrolyte leakage from greenhouse-grown acclimated plants, indicated that the most tolerant were only 1 degrees C more freezing-tolerant than alfalfa clone N4. There were no differences among transgenic and control plants for tetrazolium staining of field-grown plants at any freezing temperature. Therefore, although many of the transgenic plants had higher winter survival rates and herbage yield, there was no apparent difference in primary freezing injury, and therefore, the trait is not associated with a change in the primary site of freezing injury.
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