a1 Cellwall Biotechnology Centre, Scion Group (formerly Forest Research), Private Bag 3020, Rotorua, New Zealand
a2 Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, 1055 du P.E.P.S., Sainte-Foy, Québec, Canada G1V4C7
Previous studies have shown that the widely used plant transformation vector Agrobacterium tumefaciens can persist in genetically engineered plants in vitro and in transgenic greenhouse-grown plants, despite the use of counter-selective antibiotics. However, little is known regarding Agrobacterium persistence in tree species. To understand the kinetics of A. tumefaciens decline and persistence in transformation experiments, we assayed for the presence of A. tumefaciens in spruce and pine embryogenic tissue for up to 10 weeks post-transformation. The A. tumefaciens populations declined rapidly in the first five days post-cocultivation but generally declined more slowly in pine, relative to spruce. No bacteria were detected in spruce embryogenic tissue beyond four weeks after cocultivation, however in pine there were ~100 colony forming units per g tissue at 10 weeks post-cocultivation. We present evidence that the detection limit for PCR using virD2 primers to detect A. tumefaciens in a background of pine needle DNA was approximately 109–1010 A. tumefaciens cells per g of tissue. We also assayed for A. tumefaciens in transgenic pine and spruce embryogenic tissue and from needles, branches, stems and roots of transformed plants, up to four years post-inoculation. Occasionally A. tumefaciens was detected in embryogenic tissue up to 12 months post-inoculation. A. tumefaciens was never detected in cultured embryogenic tissue more than twelve months after inoculation, nor in developing somatic embryos or germinating plantlets, nor any of the parts of greenhouse-grown plants. From these data we conclude that if A. tumefaciens persists in transgenic conifers, it does so beneath our ability to detect it.
(Online publication March 16 2006)