Generation and maintenance of tandemly repeated extrachromosomal plasmid DNA in Chlamydomonas chloroplasts

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Unusual chloroplast transformants of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii that contain 2000 copies of a mutant version of the chloroplast atpB gene, maintained as an extrachromosomal tandem repeat, have recently been described. In this paper studies have been undertaken to (i) address possible mechanisms for generating and maintaining the amplified DNA and (ii) determine whether it is possible to use chloroplast gene amplification to overexpress chloroplast or foreign genes. Data presented here indicate that high copy number transformants harbor characteristic rearrangements in both copies of the chloroplast genome large inverted repeat. These rearrangements appear to be a consequence of, or required for, maintenance of the amplified DNA. In an attempt to mimic the apparently autonomous replication of extrachromosomal DNA in the chloroplast, transformation was carried out with a plasmid that lacked homology with the chloroplast genome or with the same plasmid carrying a putative chloroplast DNA replication origin (oriA). Transformants were recovered only with the plasmid containing oriA, and all transformants contained an integrated plasmid copy at oriA, suggesting that establishment or maintenance of the extrachromosomal tandem repeat requires conditions that were not replicated in this experiment. To determine whether other genes could be maintained at high copy number in the chloroplast, plasmids carrying the wild-type atpB gene or the bacterial aadA gene were introduced into a high copy number transformant. Surprisingly, the copy number of the plasmid tandem repeat declined rapidly after the secondary transformation events, even when strong selective pressure for the introduced gene was applied. Thus, chloroplast transformation can either create or destabilize high copy number tandem repeats.

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Plant Journal