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Overexpression of β-carotene hydroxylase enhances stress tolerance in Arabidopsis


Plant stress caused by extreme environmental conditions is already a principal reason for yield reduction in crops1. The threat of global environment change makes it increasingly important to generate crop plants that will withstand such conditions. Stress, particularly stress caused by increased sunlight, leads to the production of reactive oxygen species that cause photo-oxidative cell damage2. Carotenoids, which are present in the membranes of all photosynthetic organisms, help protect against such light-dependent oxidative damage3. In plants, the xanthophyll cycle (the reversible interconversion of two carotenoids, violaxanthin and zeaxanthin4) has a key photoprotective role5 and is therefore a promising target for genetic engineering to enhance stress tolerance. Here we show that in Arabidopsis thaliana overexpression of the chyB gene that encodes β-carotene hydroxylase—an enzyme in the zeaxanthin biosynthetic pathway6—causes a specific twofold increase in the size of the xanthophyll cycle pool. The plants are more tolerant to conditions of high light and high temperature, as shown by reduced leaf necrosis, reduced production of the stress indicator anthocyanin and reduced lipid peroxidation. Stress protection is probably due to the function of zeaxanthin in preventing oxidative damage of membranes.

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Figure 1: Carotenoid–xanthophyll biosynthetic pathway in plants.
Figure 2: Southern and RT–PCR analysis of 5-week-old sense chyB plants grown in low light.
Figure 3: Sucrose density gradient (0.15 M to 1.0 M) profile of thylakoid membranes isolated from dark-adapted 5-week-old, low-light grown wild-type and sense chyB plants after solubilization in 1.5% (w/v) dodecyl maltoside.
Figure 4: Response of 5-week-old sense chyB plants grown in low light subjected to 2 weeks of high-light and high-temperature stress.


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We thank A. J. Young, E. H. Murchie, A. V. Ruban and M. Wentworth for discussions; P. Scholes for technical assistance; A. Moir for DNA sequencing and oligonucleotide synthesis; and P. Mueller-Moule and D. M. Hodges for advice on assay of lipid peroxidation. This work was supported by a grant from the UK Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council.

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Correspondence to P. Horton.

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Davison, P., Hunter, C. & Horton, P. Overexpression of β-carotene hydroxylase enhances stress tolerance in Arabidopsis. Nature 418, 203–206 (2002).

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