A virus-induced gene silencing approach to understanding alkaloid metabolism in Catharanthus roseus
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The anticancer agents vinblastine and vincristine are bisindole alkaloids derived from coupling vindoline and catharanthine, monoterpenoid indole alkaloids produced exclusively by the Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus). Industrial production of vinblastine and vincristine currently relies on isolation from C. roseus leaves, a process that affords these compounds in 0.0003-0.01% yields. Metabolic engineering efforts to either improve alkaloid content or provide alternative sources of the bisindole alkaloids ultimately rely on the isolation and characterization of the genes involved. Several vindoline biosynthetic genes have been isolated, and the cellular and subcellular organization of the corresponding enzymes has been well studied. However, due to the leaf-specific localization of vindoline biosynthesis, and the lack of production of this precursor in cell suspension and hairy root cultures of C. roseus, further elucidation of this pathway demands the development of reverse genetics approaches to assay gene function in planta. The bipartite pTRV vector system is a Tobacco Rattle Virus-based virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) platform that has provided efficient and effective means to assay gene function in diverse plant systems. A VIGS method was developed herein to investigate gene function in C. roseus plants using the pTRV vector system. The utility of this approach in understanding gene function in C. roseus leaves is demonstrated by silencing known vindoline biosynthetic genes previously characterized in vitro.
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