l-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is an abundant metabolite in plant cells and tissues. Ascorbate functions as an antioxidant, as an enzyme cofactor, and plays essential roles in multiple physiological processes including photosynthesis, photoprotection, control of cell cycle and cell elongation, and modulation of flowering time, gene regulation, and senescence. The importance of this key molecule in regulating whole plant morphology, cell structure, and plant development has been clearly established via characterization of low vitamin C mutants of Arabidopsis, potato, tobacco, tomato, and rice. However, the consequences of elevating ascorbate content in plant growth and development are poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate that Arabidopsis lines overexpressing a myo-inositol oxygenase or an l-gulono-1,4-lactone oxidase, containing elevated ascorbate, display enhanced growth and biomass accumulation of both aerial and root tissues. To our knowledge, this is the first study demonstrating such a marked positive effect in plant growth in lines engineered to contain elevated vitamin C content. In addition, we present evidence showing that these lines are tolerant to a wide range of abiotic stresses including salt, cold, and heat. Total ascorbate content of the transgenic lines remained higher than those of controls under the abiotic stresses tested. Interestingly, exposure to pyrene, a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon and known inducer of oxidative stress in plants, leads to stunted growth of the aerial tissue, reduction in the number of root hairs, and inhibition of leaf expansion in wild type plants, while these symptoms are less severe in the overexpressers. Our results indicate the potential of this metabolic engineering strategy to develop crops with enhanced biomass, abiotic stress tolerance, and phytoremediation capabilities.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.