Increasing Levels Of Nicotinic Alkaloids In Plants

  *US09719103B2*
  US009719103B2                                 
(12)United States Patent(10)Patent No.: US 9,719,103 B2
  et al. (45) Date of Patent:*Aug.  1, 2017

(54)Increasing levels of nicotinic alkaloids in plants 
    
(75)Inventor: 22ND CENTURY LIMITED, LLC,  Clarence, NY (US) 
(73)Assignee:22nd Century Limited, LLC,  Clarence, NY (US), Type: US Company 
(*)Notice: Subject to any disclaimer, the term of this patent is extended or adjusted under 35 U.S.C. 154(b) by 150 days. 
  This patent is subject to a terminal disclaimer. 
(21)Appl. No.: 14/687,910 
(22)Filed: Apr.  15, 2015 
(65)Prior Publication Data 
 US 2015/0218575 A1 Aug.  6, 2015 
 Related U.S. Patent Documents 
(63) .
Continuation of application No. 11/520,036, filed on Sep.  13, 2006, now Pat. No. 9,551,003 .
 
Jan.  1, 2013 C 12 N 15 8243 F I Aug.  1, 2017 US B H C Jan.  1, 2013 A 24 B 13 00 L I Aug.  1, 2017 US B H C Jan.  1, 2013 A 24 B 13 02 L I Aug.  1, 2017 US B H C Jan.  1, 2013 A 24 D 1 00 L I Aug.  1, 2017 US B H C Jan.  1, 2013 A 61 K 31 465 L I Aug.  1, 2017 US B H C
(51)Int. Cl. C12N 015/82 (20060101); A24D 001/00 (20060101); A24B 013/00 (20060101); A24B 013/02 (20060101); A61K 031/465 (20060101)
(58)Field of Search  None

 
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 FOREIGN PATENT DOCUMENTS 
 
       GB       2416770                         2/2006      
       KR       10200419301                         3/2004      
       WO       WO 98/56923                         10/1998      
       WO       WO 00/52168                         9/2000      
       WO       WO 01/59086       A2                8/2001      
       WO       WO 02/38588       A2                5/2002      
       WO       WO 02/066625                         8/2002      
       WO       WO 02/100199       A2                12/2002      
       WO       WO 03/013226       A2                2/2003      
       WO       WO 20/04/076625       A2                10/2004      
       WO       WO 20/05/018307       A1                3/2005      
       WO       WO 20/05/116199                         4/2005      
       WO       WO 20/05/103009                         11/2005      
       WO       WO 20/05/107436                         11/2005      
       WO       WO 20/05/111217                         11/2005      
       WO       WO 20/05/113821                         12/2005      
       WO       WO 20/05/121137                         12/2005      
       WO       WO 20/06/008493                         1/2006      
       WO       WO 20/06/010246                         2/2006      
       WO       WO 20/06/015887                         2/2006      
       WO       WO 20/06/025443                         3/2006      
       WO       WO 20/06/091194       A1                8/2006      

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     * cited by examiner
 
     Primary Examiner —Anne Kubelik
     Art Unit — 1662
     Exemplary claim number — 1
 
(74)Attorney, Agent, or Firm — Foley & Lardner LLP

(57)

Abstract

Four genes, A622, NBB1, PMT, and QPT, can be influenced for increasing nicotinic alkaloid levels in Nicotiana plants, as well as for synthesizing nicotinic alkaloids in non-nicotine producing plants and cells. In particular, overexpressing one or more of A622, NBB1, PMT, and QPT may be used to increase nicotine and nicotinic alkaloid levels in tobacco plants. Non-nicotine producing cells can be engineered to produce nicotine and related compounds by overexpressing A622 and NBB1.
18 Claims, 23 Drawing Sheets, and 36 Figures


CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION(S)

[0001] This application is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/520,036, filed Sep. 13, 2006. The content of this application is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0002] The present invention relates to the field of molecular biology and regulation of nicotinic alkaloid synthesis. Thus, the invention relates, inter alia, to methodology and constructs for increasing the level of nicotinic alkaloids in a Nicotiana plant, and to cells that are genetically engineered to produce nicotinic alkaloids and related compounds, when they would not do so otherwise.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0003] Presently, several nicotine biosynthesis enzymes are known. For example, the tobacco quinolate phosphoribosyl transferase (QPT) gene has been cloned, see U.S. Pat. No. 6,423,520 and Sinclair et al., Plant Mol. Biol. 44: 603-17 (2000), and its suppression provides significant nicotine reductions in transgenic tobacco plants. Xie et al., Recent Advances in Tobacco Science 30: 17-37 (2004). Likewise, suppression of an endogenous putrescine methyl transferase (PMT) sequence has been shown to reduce nicotine levels but increase anatabine levels by about 2-to-6-fold. Hibi et al., Plant Cell 6: 723-35 (1994); Chintapakorn and Hamill, Plant Mol. Biol. 53:87-105 (2003); Steppuhn et al. PLoS Biol 2:8:e217:1074-1080 (2004).
[0004] While previous research efforts have focused on using nicotine biosynthesis enzymes for reducing nicotine in plants, very little research has addressed the role of nicotine biosynthesis enzymes in increasing nicotinic alkaloid synthesis. This lack of up-regulation data may be attributed to the fact that overexpressing a known nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis gene, such as PMT, or QPT, will not necessarily increase plant production and accumulation of secondary metabolites. That is, it does not necessarily follow that because down-regulating a nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis gene reduces alkaloid production and accumulation, overexpressing the same nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis gene will increase nicotinic alkaloid production and accumulation.
[0005] Due to the paucity of research, there is a need for identifying genes that increase nicotine biosynthesis and accumulation. For example, because nicotinic alkaloids play an important role in protecting plants against insects and herbivores, it is likely to be advantageous to increase nicotinic alkaloid synthesis in a host plant. From an herbivory perspective, increased nicotine synthesis and accumulation would provide an environmentally acceptable means for mediating plant-pest interactions.
[0006] From the cigarette industry's perspective, where nicotine is the physically and psychologically active component in cigarette smoke, it may be advantageous to increase nicotine content in tobacco by genetic engineering. Research studies demonstrate that when supplementary nicotine is physically added to cigarette tobacco from an outside source, smokers inhale less of the more harmful components of smoke such as tar and carbon monoxide. See Armitage et al., Psychopharmacology 96: 447-53 (1988), Fagerström, Psychopharmacology 77: 164-67 (1982), Russell, Nicotine and Public Health 15: 265-84 (2000), and Woodman et al., European Journal of Respiratory Disease 70: 316-21 (1987). Likewise, a report by The Institute of Medicine of the U.S. on potential reduced-exposure products (PREPs) concluded that “retaining nicotine at pleasurable or addictive levels while reducing the more toxic components of tobacco is another general strategy for harm reduction.” See CLEARING THE SMOKE, ASSESSING THE SCIENCE BASE FOR TOBACCO HARM REDUCTION, IOM at page 29 (2001); commonly referred to as the “IOM Report” by the tobacco industry.
[0007] In addition to the more traditional applications for increased nicotine products, such as cigarettes and other tobacco products, recent pharmacological studies suggest a therapeutic role for nicotine and related compounds. For example, several research groups are presently studying drugs that target nicotine receptors as a means for treating cognitive impairments, such as Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, and age-related memory loss. Singer, “The Upside to Nicotine,” Technology Review (Jul. 28, 2006). Acetylcholine receptor ligands, such as nicotine, have been demonstrated to have effects on attention, cognition, appetite, substance abuse, memory, extra pyramidal function, cardiovascular function, pain, and gastrointestinal motility and function. U.S. Pat. No. 5,852,041. Thus, there are therapeutic benefits of nicotine and related compounds, and thus there is a need for improved methods for producing them.
[0008] Accordingly, there is a continuing need to identify additional genes whose expression can be affected to increase nicotinic alkaloid content in plants, in particular, nicotine in N. tabacum plants, as well as produce nicotine and related compounds in non-nicotine producing cells.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0009] Four genes, A622, NBB1, PMT and QPT, can be influenced for increasing nicotinic alkaloid levels in Nicotiana plants, as well as synthesizing nicotinic alkaloids and related compounds in non-nicotine producing cells.
[0010] In one aspect, the invention provides a method for increasing nicotinic alkaloids, such as nicotine, in a Nicotiana plant, by overexpressing at least one of A622 and NBB1 relative to a control plant. In one embodiment, A622 is overexpressed. In another embodiment, NBB1 is overexpressed. In another embodiment, A622 and NBB1 are overexpressed. In a further embodiment, A622 and NBB1 are overexpressed and at least one of QPT and PMT is overexpressed. In a still further embodiment, QPT and A622 are overexpressed.
[0011] In another embodiment, an increased nicotine plant, and products there from, are produced by any method overexpressing one or more of A622, NBB1, PMT, and QPT. In a further embodiment, products are selected from the group consisting of a cigarette, a pharmaceutical, and a nutraceutical.
[0012] In another aspect, the invention provides a method for producing nicotinic alkaloids, comprising expressing NBB1 and A622 heterologously in a plant or cell that otherwise does not produce nicotinic alkaloids. In one embodiment, NBB1 and A622 expression occurs in a cell selected from the group consisting of a bacterial, yeast, filamentous fungi, algae, mammalian, and insect cell.
[0013] In another embodiment, an increased nicotinic alkaloid plant is produced by expressing NBB1 and A622 heterologously in a plant or cell that otherwise does not produce nicotinic alkaloids. In another embodiment, a nicotinic alkaloid product is produced by expressing NBB1 and A622 heterologously in a plant or cell that otherwise does not produce nicotinic alkaloids.
[0014] In another aspect, there is provided a method for the commercial production of a nicotinic alkaloid, comprising (a) providing a plurality of cells expressing A622 and NBB1 and (b) obtaining said nicotinic alkaloid from said plurality.
[0015] In another aspect, the invention provides a method for increasing nicotine in a plant, comprising overexpressing PMT and QPT relative to a control plant. In one embodiment, an increased nicotine plant is produced. In another embodiment, an increased nicotine product in produced.
[0016] In another aspect, the invention provides a method of producing NBB1 enzyme, comprising transforming a cell with an isolated nucleic molecule encoding NBB1 and growing the transformed cell under conditions whereby NBB1 enzyme is produced. In one embodiment, the transformed cell is selected from the group consisting of bacteria, yeast, filamentous fungi, algae, green plants, and mammalian cells.
[0017] In another aspect, the invention provides a method for increasing nicotine and yield in a Nicotiana plant, comprising a) crossing an increased-nicotine Nicotiana plant with a high yielding Nicotiana plant; and b) selecting an increased-nicotine and yield Nicotiana progeny plant. In one embodiment, an increased nicotine and yield plant is produced.
[0018] In one embodiment, the increased-nicotine plant is produced by: a) transforming a Nicotiana plant with a construct comprising, in the 5′ to 3′ direction, a promoter operably linked to a heterologous nucleic acid encoding an enzyme that increases nicotine synthesis; b) regenerating transgenic Nicotiana plants from the transformed plant; and c) selecting a transgenic Nicotiana plant having increased-nicotine content relative to a control plant. In a further embodiment, the nucleic acid is selected from the group consisting of QPT, PMT, A622, and NBB1.
[0019] In another aspect, the invention provides a method for increasing nicotine and yield in a Nicotiana plant, comprising: (a) transforming a Nicotiana plant with (i) a first construct comprising, in the 5′ to 3′ direction, a promoter operably linked to a heterologous nucleic acid encoding an enzyme that increases nicotine synthesis; and (ii) a second construct comprising, in the 5′ to 3′ direction, a promoter operably linked to a heterologous nucleic acid encoding an enzyme that increases yield; (b) regenerating transgenic Nicotiana plants from the transformed plant; and (c) selecting a transgenic Nicotiana plant having increased-nicotine content and increased yield relative to a control plant.
[0020] In one embodiment, the first construct comprises a nucleic acid encoding an enzyme selected from the group consisting of QPT, PMT, A622, and NBB1. In another embodiment, an increased nicotine and yield plant is produced.
[0021] In another aspect, the invention provides a method for increasing nicotine in N. tabacum, comprising overexpressing PMT relative to a control plant.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0022] FIG. 1: RNA blot analysis of NBB1 expression
[0023] FIG. 2: Alignment of NBB1 with Eschscholzia californica berberine bridge enzyme (EcBBE) (SEQ ID NOS 2 AND 33)
[0024] FIG. 3: Phylogenetic tree constructed using the sequences of NBB1 polypeptide and plant BBE-like proteins
[0025] FIG. 4A: T-DNA region of pTobRD2-DEST
[0026] FIG. 4B: T-DNA region of pTobRD2-NBB1ox
[0027] FIG. 4C: T-DNA region of pTobRD2-A622ox
[0028] FIG. 4D: T-DNA region of pTobRD2-A622ox-NBB1ox
[0029] FIG. 4E: T-DNA region of pBI101H-E2113-DEST
[0030] FIG. 4F: T-DNA region of pE1235SΩ-NBB1
[0031] FIG. 5A: Immunoblot analysis of NBB1 in tobacco hairy roots
[0032] FIG. 5B: Immunoblot analysis of A622 in tobacco hairy roots
[0033] FIG. 6: Nicotine alkaloid contents in hairy roots of TobRD2-NBB1 (TN), TobRD2-A622 (TA), TobRD2-NBB1-A622 (TNA)
[0034] FIG. 7: Expression of A622 Protein in Transgenic A. belladonna
[0035] FIG. 8: Transgenic A. belladonna Expressing NBB1 and A622
[0036] FIG. 9: Nicotine synthesis in transgenic A. belladonna hairy roots expressing NBB1 and A622
[0037] FIG. 10: MS profile of nicotine synthesized in A. belladonna hairy roots expressing A622 and NBB1
[0038] FIG. 11A: T-DNA region of pA622pro-DEST
[0039] FIG. 11B: T-DNA region of pA622pro-PMTox
[0040] FIG. 11C: T-DNA region of pTobRD2-PMTox
[0041] FIG. 11D: T-DNA region of pA622pro-QPTox
[0042] FIG. 11E: T-DNA region of pTobRD2-QPTox
[0043] FIG. 11F: T-DNA region of pA622pro-PMTox-QPTox
[0044] FIG. 11G: T-DNA region of pTobRD2-PMTox-QPTox
[0045] FIG. 12: Nicotine content in leaf of tobacco plants transformed with A622pro-PMTox (AP-1 to AP-24). AG-1 to AG-4 are control plants transformed with A622-GUS
[0046] FIG. 13: Nicotine content in leaf of tobacco plants transformed with TobRD2-PMTox (TP-1 to TP-14). TG-1 to TG-3 are control plants transformed with TobRD2-GUS
[0047] FIG. 14: Nicotine content in leaf of tobacco plants transformed with A622pro-QPTox (AQ-1 to AQ-15). AG-1 to AG-4 are control plants transformed with A622-GUS
[0048] FIG. 15: Nicotine content in leaf of tobacco plants transformed with TobRD2-QPTox (TQ-1 to TQ-14). TG-1 to TG-3 are control plants transformed with TobRD2-GUS
[0049] FIG. 16: Nicotine content in leaf of tobacco plants transformed with A622pro-PMTox-QPTox (APQ-1 to APQ-27). AG-1 to AG-3 are control plants transformed with A622-GUS
[0050] FIG. 17: Nicotine content in leaf of tobacco plants transformed with pTobRD2-PMTox-QPTox (TPQ-1 to TPQ-24). TG-1 to TG-3 are control plants transformed with TobRD2-GUS
[0051] FIG. 18A: T-DNA region of pGWB2
[0052] FIG. 18B: T-DNA region of p35S-NBB1
[0053] FIG. 18C: T-DNA region of p35S-NBB1
[0054] FIG. 19: Immunoblot analysis of Arabidopsis thaliana lines transformed with 35S-A622-35S-NBB1-35S-PMT cassettes.
[0055] FIG. 20: Transgenic Arabidopsis co-expressing NBB1, A622, and PMT.
[0056] FIG. 21A: Confirmation of the presence of A622 and NBB1 in recombinant bacmids
[0057] FIG. 21B: Detection of A622 and NBB1 in insect cell Sf9 cells and Ni-NTA column eluates.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0058] The present invention relates to increasing nicotinic alkaloids in Nicotiana plants, as well as to producing nicotinic alkaloids in cells that would not do so otherwise. As described below, the present inventors realized that four genes, A622, NBB1, QPT and PMT, can be influenced to achieve an increase of nicotinic alkaloid levels in Nicotiana plants. That is, overexpressing any of these four genes increases Nicotiana nicotinic alkaloids. Further increases in Nicotiana nicotinic alkaloids can be achieved by simultaneously overexpressing at least two of the four genes, such as QPT and PMT. A622 and NBB1 can be introduced into non-nicotine producing plants or cells, thereby to effect their production of nicotine or related compounds.
[0059] In addition to providing methodology for increasing nicotinic alkaloids in Nicotiana, the invention also provides for concurrently increasing nicotinic alkaloids and yield in Nicotiana. Pursuant to this aspect of the invention, increased nicotinic alkaloids and yield can be achieved by a combination of genetic engineering techniques and conventional breeding.
[0060] All technical terms employed in this specification are commonly used in biochemistry, molecular biology and agriculture; hence, they are understood by those skilled in the field to which this invention belongs. Those technical terms can be found, for example in: MOLECULAR CLONING: A LABORATORY MANUAL, 3rd ed., vol. 1-3, ed. Sambrook and Russel, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., 2001; CURRENT PROTOCOLS IN MOLECULAR BIOLOGY, ed. Ausubel et al., Greene Publishing Associates and Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1988 (with periodic updates); SHORT PROTOCOLS IN MOLECULAR BIOLOGY: A COMPENDIUM OF METHODS FROM CURRENT PROTOCOLS IN MOLECULAR BIOLOGY, 5th ed., vol. 1-2, ed. Ausubel et al., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002; GENOME ANALYSIS: A LABORATORY MANUAL, vol. 1-2, ed. Green et al., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., 1997; PRODUCTION, CHEMISTRY AND TECHNOLOGY, D. L. Davis and M. T. Nielson (eds.) Coresta, 1999 (commonly referred to as “IOM Report”).
[0061] Methodology involving plant biology techniques are described here and also are described in detail in treatises such as METHODS IN PLANT MOLEULAR BIOLOGY: A LABORATORY COURSE MANUAL, ed. Maliga et al., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., 1995. Various techniques using PCR are described, for example, in Innis et al., PCR PROTOCOLS: A GUIDE TO METHODS AND APPLICATIONS, Academic Press, San Diego, 1990 and in Dieffenbach and Dveksler, PCR PRIMER: A LABORATORY MANUAL, 2nd ed., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., 2003. PCR-primer pairs can be derived from known sequences by known techniques such as using computer programs intended for that purpose, e.g., Primer, Version 0.5, 1991, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, Mass. Methods for chemical synthesis of nucleic acids are discussed, for example, in Beaucage & Caruthers, Tetra. Letts. 22: 1859-62 (1981), and Matteucci & Caruthers, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 103: 3185 (1981).
[0062] Restriction enzyme digestions, phosphorylations, ligations, and transformations were done as described in Sambrook et al., MOLECULAR CLONING: A LABORATORY MANUAL, 2nd ed. (1989), Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. All reagents and materials used for the growth and maintenance of bacterial cells were obtained from Aldrich Chemicals (Milwaukee, Wis.), DIFCO Laboratories (Detroit, Mich.), Invitrogen (Gaithersburg, Md.), or Sigma Chemical Company (St. Louis, Mo.) unless otherwise specified.
[0063] The terms “encoding” and “coding” refer to the process by which a gene, through the mechanisms of transcription and translation, provides information to a cell from which a series of amino acids can be assembled into a specific amino acid sequence to produce an active enzyme. Because of the degeneracy of the genetic code, certain base changes in DNA sequence do not change the amino acid sequence of a protein. It is therefore understood that modifications in the DNA sequences encoding A622 and NBB1, respectively, which do not substantially affect the functional properties of either enzyme are contemplated.

I. Increasing Nicotinic Alkaloids in Nicotiana by Overexpressing at Least One of A622 and NBB1

[0064] Although A622 and NBB1 were previously identified, before the present invention the field was wholly unaware that overexpressing at least one of A622 or NBB1 in a Nicotiana plant increases nicotinic alkaloid content. Accordingly, the present invention encompasses both methodology and constructs for increasing nicotinic alkaloid content in a Nicotiana plant, by overexpressing at least one of A622 or NBB1. Overexpressing both A622 and NBB1 further increases nicotinic alkaloids levels in a Nicotiana plant.
[0065] In the present description, an “alkaloid” is a nitrogen-containing basic compound found in plants and produced by secondary metabolism. A “nicotinic alkaloid” is nicotine or an alkaloid that is structurally related to nicotine. In the case of tobacco, nicotinic alkaloid content and total alkaloid content are used synonymously.
[0066] Illustrative major Nicotiana nicotinic alkaloids include but are not limited to nicotine, nornicotine, anatabine, and anabasine. Illustrative minor Nicotiana alkaloids include but are not limited to anatalline, N-methylanatabine, N-methylanabasine, myosmine, anabaseine, N′-formylnornicotine, nicotyrine, and cotinine. Other minor nicotinic alkaloids in tobacco are reported, for example, in Hecht, S. S. et al., Accounts of Chemical Research 12: 92-98 (1979); Tso, T. C., PRODUCTION, PHYSIOLOGY AND BIOCHEMISTRY OF TOBACCO PLANT, Ideals Inc. (Beltsville, Md.), 1990.
[0067] Many other pyridyl bases plus many derivatives of nornicotine, anatabine, and anabasine are nicotinic alkaloids that have been reported to be present in tobacco and for purposes of the invention shall be included within minor Nicotiana alkaloids. Most of these so-called minor nicotinic alkaloids are present in less than 50 μg/g (dry weight basis) and many others are present in nanogram amounts. Bush, L. P., et al., “Biosynthesis and metabolism in nicotine and related alkaloids” in NICOTINE AND RELATED ALKALOIDS, J. W. Gorrod & J. Wahren (eds.) Chapman & Hall, London (1993); Bush, L. P., et al., “Alkaloid Biosynthesis” in TOBACCO PRODUCTION, CHEMISTRY AND TECHNOLOGY, D. L. Davis and M. T. Nielson (eds.) Coresta, 1999. The chemical structures of several nicotinic alkaloids are presented, for example, in Felpin et al., J. Org. Chem. 66: 6305-312 (2001).
[0068] Nicotine is the primary alkaloid in N. tabacum, as in 50 to 60 percent of other of Nicotiana species. Depending on the variety, about 85 to about 95 percent of total alkaloids in N. tabacum is nicotine. Bush et al. (1999), supra; Hoffmann et al., Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health 41: 1-52 (1994). Based on alkaloid accumulation in the leaves, nornicotine, anatabine, and anabasine are the other foremost alkaloids in N. tabacum. Anatabine is usually not the primary alkaloid in any Nicotiana species but does accumulate to relatively higher amounts in three species; anabasine is the primary alkaloid in four species. Nornicotine is the primary alkaloid in 30 to 40 percent of Nicotiana species.
[0069] In this description, “expression” denotes the production of the protein product encoded by a nucleotide sequence. “Overexpression” refers to the production of a protein product in a transgenic organism that exceeds levels of production in a normal or non-genetically engineered organism. As in conventional in the art, nucleotide sequences are denoted by italicized font (e.g. PMT), whereas polypeptide sequences are not italicized (e.g. PMT)
[0070] A622
[0071] It has been reported that A622 exhibits the same expression pattern as PMT. Shoji et al., Plant Cell Physiol. 41: 1072-76 (2000a), and Plant Mol. Biol. 50: 427-40 (2002). Both A622 and PMT are expressed specifically in roots, particularly in the cortex and endodermis of the apical parts of the roots and root hairs. Moreover, A622 and PMT have a common pattern of expression in response to NIC regulation and methyl-jasmonate stimulus. A622 is induced in the roots of Nicotiana tabacum in response to wounding of aerial tissues. Cane et al., Func. Plant Biol. 32: 305-20 (2005). In N. glauca, A622 is induced in wounded leaves under conditions that result in QPT induction. Sinclair et al., Func. Plant Biol. 31: 721-29 (2004).
[0072] NIC1 and NIC2 loci are two independent genetic loci in N. tabacum, formerly designated as A and B. Mutations nic1 and nic2 reduce expression levels of nicotine biosynthesis enzymes and nicotine content, generally the nicotine content of wild type>homozygous nic2>homozygous nic1>homoyzgous nic1 and homozygous nic2 plants. Legg & Collins, Can. J. Cyto. 13: 287 (1971); Hibi et al., Plant Cell 6: 723-35 (1994); Reed & Jelesko, Plant Science 167: 1123 (2004). In this description, “nic1nic2” denotes tobacco genotypes that are homozygous for both the nic1 and the nic2 mutations.
[0073] The nucleic acid sequence of A662 (SEQ ID NO: 3) has been determined. Hibi et al. (1994), supra. The protein A622 (SEQ ID NO: 4), encoded by this nucleic acid sequence, resembles isoflavone reductases (IFR) and contains an NADPH-binding motif. A622 shows homology to TP7, a tobacco phenylcoumaran benzylic ether reductase (PCBER) involved in lignin biosynthesis. Shoji et al. (2002), supra. No PCBER activity was observed, however, when A622 expressed in E. coli was assayed with two different substrates.
[0074] Based on co-regulation of A622 and PMT and the similarity of A622 to IFR, A622 was proposed to function as a reductase in the final steps of nicotinic alkaloid synthesis. Hibi et al. (1994); Shoji, et al. (2000a). No IFR activity was observed, however, when the protein was expressed in bacteria (id.). Heretofore there was no understanding that overexpressing A622 increases nicotine levels.
[0075] “A622 expression” refers to biosynthesis of a gene product encoded by SEQ ID NO: 3. “A622 overexpression” denotes an increasing of A622 expression. A622 overexpression affects an increase in nicotinic alkaloid content for a plant or cell in which the overexpression occurs. A622 overexpression includes the biosynthesis of a gene product encoded by the following: full-length A622 nucleic acid sequence disclosed in Hibi et al. (1994), supra (SEQ ID NO: 3), SEQ ID NO: 10, and all A622 polynucleotide variants.
[0076] NBB1
[0077] The NBB1 sequence was identified as a cDNA prepared from a Nicotiana sylvestris-derived cDNA library, pursuant to the protocol of Katoh et al., Proc. Japan Acad. 79 (Ser. B): 151-54 (2003). Like A622, NBB1 is controlled by the nicotine biosynthesis regulatory loci, NIC1 and NIC2. NBB1 and PMT have the same pattern of expression in tobacco plants. That NBB1 is involved in nicotine biosynthesis is indicated by the fact that NBB1, like PMT and A622, is under the control of the NIC genes and exhibits a similar pattern of expression.
[0078] The nucleic acid sequence of NBB1 (SEQ ID NO: 1) has been determined and encodes the polypeptide sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO: 2. “NBB1 expression” refers to biosynthesis of a gene product encoded by SEQ ID NO: 1. “NBB1 overexpression” denotes an increasing of NBB1 expression. NBB1 overexpression affects an increase in nicotinic alkaloid content for a plant or cell in which the overexpression occurs. NBB1 overexpression includes biosynthesis of a gene product encoded by the following: SEQ ID NO: 1, SEQ ID NO: 9, and all NBB1 polynucleotide variants.

II. Increasing Nicotinic Alkaloids in N. tabacum by Overexpressing PMT

[0079] The only previous report demonstrating overexpression of a nicotinic biosynthesis gene in any Nicotiana species was in N. sylvestris, where PMT overexpression resulted in a modest 40% increase in leaf nicotine. Sato et al., Proc. Nat'l Acad. Sci. USA 98: 367-72 (2001). While overexpressing a nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis gene in one plant species, such as N. sylvestris, results in an increased accumulation of secondary metabolites, it does not necessarily follow that similar accumulation of secondary metabolites will occur in a related species, such as N. tabacum. Saitoh et al., Phytochemistry 24: 477-80 (1985). This is especially relevant for PMT overexpression, since N. tabacum contains five expressed PMT genes and N. sylvestris contains three expressed PMT genes. Hashimoto et al., Plant Mol. Biol. 37: 25-37 (1998); Reichers & Timko, Plant Mol. Biol. 41: 387-401 (1999). Indeed, when the PMT gene from N. tabacum was overexpressed in Duboisia hairy root cultures, the levels of nicotine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine did not increase significantly. Moyano et al., Phytochemistry 59, 697-702 (2002). Likewise, overexpressing the same PMT gene in transgenic plants and hairy root cultures of Atropa belladonna did not affect hyoscyamine and scopolamine levels. Sato et al., Proc. Nat'l Acad. Sci. USA 98: 367-72 (2001); Rothe et al., J. Exp. Bot. 54: 2065-070 (2003).
[0080] In Solanaceous species, such as tobacco, it seems that the same alkaloid biosynthesis pathway in two related plant species can be differently regulated and overexpression of a given gene does not necessarily lead to a similar accumulation pattern of secondary metabolites. Moyano et al., J. Exp. Bot. 54: 203-11 (2003). For example, when sixty Nicotiana species were analyzed, there was considerable variation in total alkaloid content and alkaloid profile amongst the species. Saitoh et al., Phytochemistry 24: 477-80 (1985). For instance, while N. sylvestris had the highest dry weight content of total alkaloids (the sum of nicotine, nornicotine, anabasine and anatabine) at 29,600 μg/g or 2.96 percent, N. alata contained the lowest at 20 μg/g or 0.002 percent. The ratio of nicotine to total alkaloid in the leaves of N. sylvestris was about 80 percent versus about 95 percent for N. tabacum L. Id. Also, the ratio of nornicotine to total alkaloid in N. sylvestris leaves was 19.1 percent versus 3 percent for N. tabacum L. Id. Based on these large variations among the sixty Nicotiana species, Saitoh et al. conclude, “The amount and ratio of total and individual alkaloids present in a plant depend on the species. No clear-cut correlation between alkaloid pattern and classification of the genus Nicotiana seems to exist.” Id. at page 477.
[0081] Accordingly, the instant invention provides methodology and constructs for increasing nicotinic alkaloids in N. tabacum by overexpressing PMT.
[0082] The nucleic acid sequence of PMT (SEQ ID NO: 7) has been determined and encodes the polypeptide sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO: 8. “PMT expression” refers to biosynthesis of a gene product encoded by SEQ ID NO: 7. “PMT overexpression” denotes an increasing of PMT expression. PMT overexpression affects an increase in nicotinic alkaloid content for a plant or cell in which the overexpression occurs. PMT overexpression includes the biosynthesis of a gene product encoded by the following: full-length PMT nucleic acid sequence disclosed in Hibi et al. (1994), supra (SEQ ID NO: 7), SEQ ID NO: 12, and all PMT polynucleotide variants.

III. Increasing Nicotinic Alkaloids in Nicotiana by Overexpressing QPT and PMT

[0083] Until now there was no knowledge that overexpressing QPT and PMT synergistically increases nicotinic alkaloids. That is, further increases in nicotine levels can be achieved by overexpressing QPT and PMT, as compared with overexpressing QPT or PMT alone. Pursuant to this aspect of the invention, a nucleic acid construct comprising both QPT and PMT is introduced into a Nicotiana plant cell.
[0084] The nucleic acid sequence of QPT (SEQ ID NO: 5) has been determined and encodes the polypeptide sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO: 6. “QPT expression” refers to biosynthesis of a gene product encoded by SEQ ID NO: 5. “QPT overexpression” denotes an increasing of QPT expression. QPT overexpression affects an increase in nicotinic alkaloid content for a plant or cell in which the overexpression occurs. QPT overexpression includes the biosynthesis of a gene product encoded by the following: full-length QPT nucleic acid sequence disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,423,520 (SEQ ID NO: 5), SEQ ID NO: 11, and all QPT polynucleotide variants.

IV. Increasing Nicotinic Alkaloids in Nicotiana by Overexpressing at Least Two or More of A622, NBB1, QPT, and PMT

[0085] While it is well-recognized that QPT plays a role in nicotine biosynthesis, see WO 98/56923, the present invention contemplates further increases in nicotine synthesis by overexpressing at least two or more of A622, NBB1, QPT, and PMT in Nicotiana. Pursuant to this aspect of the invention, a nucleic acid construct comprising at least two of A622, NBB1, QPT, and PMT is introduced into a Nicotiana plant cell. An illustrative nucleic acid construct may comprise both QPT and A622.

V. Increasing Nicotiana Nicotinic Alkaloids and Yield

[0086] Increased nicotine plants of the invention may be produced by conventional breeding or crossing, as described by Wernsman et al., in 2 PRINCIPLES OF CULTIVAR DEVELOPMENT: CROP SPECIES (Macmillan 1997). For example, a stable genetically engineered transformant, regenerated from tobacco material that contains a suitable transgene, is employed to introgress a high-nicotine trait into a desirable commercially acceptable genetic background, thereby obtaining a tobacco cultivar or variety that combines a high nicotine level with said desirable background.
[0087] Similarly, for example, a genetically engineered plant overexpressing QPT and A622 may be produced by crossing a transgenic plant overexpressing QPT with a transgenic plant overexpressing A622. Following successive rounds of crossing and selection, a genetically engineered plant having overexpressing QPT and A622 can be selected.
[0088] While any desirable gene can be introgressed into a high-nicotine variety, there is a critical need for introducing a high nicotine trait into a high-yielding tobacco background. Several studies indicate that “Yield improvements have been hampered by the negative relationship that exists with nicotine concentration.” PRODUCTION, CHEMISTRY AND TECHNOLOGY, D. L. Davis and M. T. Nielson (eds.) Coresta at page 46 (1999). In his reflections of tobacco breeding, Dr. Earl Wernsman asserts “continued selection for yield alone will soon result in a population whose nicotine concentration in cured leaf is so low that the tobaccos are unacceptable to industry” Wernsman, Recent Advances in Tobacco Science 25: 5-35 (1999). He postulates that “genetic methods of up-regulating nicotine synthesis may be needed to permit additional increases in yielding ability while maintaining nicotine concentration” Id.
[0089] Accordingly, the present invention provides a means for correcting the “negative correlation” between yield and nicotine content in Nicotiana plants by overexpressing a gene encoding a nicotine biosynthesis enzyme in a high-yielding Nicotiana plant. Exemplary nicotine biosynthesis enzymes include but are not limited to QPTase, PMTase, A622, NBB1, arginine decarboxylase (ADC), methylputrescine oxidase (MPO), NADH dehydrogenase, ornithine decarboxylase (ODC), and S-adenosyl-methionine synthetase (SAMS). Increased-nicotine plants resulting there from are then crossed with any desirable commercially acceptable genetic background that maintains high yield. Suitable high-yield Nicotiana plants include but are not limited to Nicotiana tabacum cultivars K 326, NC71, NC72 and RG81. Following successive rounds of crossing and selection, a genetically engineered plant having increased nicotine and increased yield is accordingly produced.
[0090] A further aspect of the invention provides crossing an increased-nicotine plant with an increased-yield plant as another strategy for breaking the negative correlation between nicotine content and yield.
[0091] “Increased yield genes” encompass any gene whose expression correlates with increased production capacity as reflected by, for example, increased photoassimilate production, increased growth rate, improved vigor, enhanced yield, enhanced CO2 fixation, enhanced biomass, increased seed production, improved storage, enhanced yield, increased disease tolerance, increased insect tolerance, increased water-stress tolerance, enhanced sweetness, improved starch composition, improved sucrose accumulation and export, and improved response to oxidative stress compared with a wild-type control plant.
[0092] Likewise, an “increased yield plant” refers to a plant, or any portion thereof, overexpressing an “increased yield gene” and exhibits increased production capacity as reflected by, for example, increased photoassimilate production, increased growth rate, improved vigor, enhanced yield, enhanced CO2 fixation, enhanced biomass, increased seed production, improved storage, enhanced yield, increased disease tolerance, increased insect tolerance, increased water-stress tolerance, enhanced sweetness, improved starch composition, improved sucrose accumulation and export, and improved response to oxidative stress compared with a wild-type control plant.
[0093] For example, and in no way limiting the invention, an increased yield plant can be produced by overexpressing a pathogenesis-related (PR) gene. It has been shown that overexpressing a maize PRms gene, in tobacco produced transgenic tobacco plants having enhanced biomass and seed production. Murillo et al., Plant J. 36: 330-41 (2003). Likewise, an increased yield plant can be produced by overexpressing a gene encoding a Calvin cycle enzyme. Tamoi et al. Plant Cell Physiol. 47(3)380-390 (2006). Tobacco plants overexpressing, for example, a cyanobacterial fructose-1,6-/sedoheptulose-1,7-bisphosphatase displayed enhanced photosynthetic efficiency and growth efficiency compared with wild-type tobacco. Miyagawa et al., Nature Biotech. 19: 965-69 (2001).
[0094] The present invention also contemplates producing a plant having increased yield and increased nicotine by overexpressing a gene encoding a nicotine biosynthesis enzyme, such as QPT, PMT, A622, or NBB1, and overexpressing an increased yield gene, such as PRms, fructose-1,6-/sedoheptulose-1,7-bisphosphatase, fructose-1,6-bisphosphatase, and sedoheptulose-1,7-bisphosphatase, sedoheptulose-1,7-bisphosphatase in the same plant or cell.

VI. Producing Nicotinic Alkaloids and Related Compounds in Non-Nicotine Producing Cells

[0095] A622 and NBB1 can be introduced into a non-nicotine producing plant or cell, thereby producing nicotine or related compounds in an organism or cell that does not produce these compounds otherwise. A variety of products can be produced from these engineered organisms and cells, including nicotine, nicotine analogs, and nicotine biosynthesis enzymes.
[0096] A “non-nicotine producing plant” refers to any plant that does not produce nicotine or related nicotinic alkaloids. Illustrative non-nicotine producing plants include but are not limited to Atropa belladonna and Arabidopsis thaliana.
[0097] “Non-nicotine producing cells” refers to cells from any organism that does not produce nicotine or related nicotinic alkaloids. Illustrative cells include but are not limited to plant cells, such as Atropa belladonna, Arabidopsis thaliana, as well as insect, mammalian, yeast, fungal, algal, or bacterial cells.
[0098] A “nicotine analog” has the basic structure of nicotine but may, for example, have different ring substituents. For example, a nicotine analog may substitute a hydrogen (—H) for the methyl group (—CH3) thereby producing nornicotine, which is an analog of nicotine. In addition to sharing a similar structure with nicotine, nicotine analogs may provide similar physiological effects. Cotinine, for example, has been cited for its positive effects on improving concentration and memory and, accordingly, is a nicotine analog. Accordingly, nicotine analogs are defined broadly to cover any and all compounds having similar structural and functional activity to nicotine.

VII. Synthesis of Compounds Using Novel Enzymes

[0099] Recently, there has been great interest in synthesizing nicotine analogs that target nicotine receptors and provide therapeutic effects for neurogenerative diseases and cognitive disabilities. For example, Targacept, a pharmaceutical company formed as a spinout from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, endeavors to develop and commercialize nicotine analog drugs based on selective activation of neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (NNRs). Because the present invention provides a novel nicotine biosynthesis enzyme, there may be value in using NBB1 alone, or NBB1 and A622, for developing novel nicotine analogs. For example, using the inventive methods and constructs, a nicotinic alkaloid analog can be produced by providing a nicotine analog precursor in a cell culture system.
[0100] Additionally, the inventive enzymes may be used for in vitro synthesis of nicotine and related compounds. That is, recombinant A622 and NBB1 can be used for the synthesis or partial synthesis of a nicotinic alkaloid and a nicotinic alkaloid analog.

Nicotinic Alkaloid Biosynthesis Sequences

[0101] Nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis genes have been identified in several plant species, exemplified by Nicotiana plants. Accordingly, the present invention embraces any nucleic acid, gene, polynucleotide, DNA, RNA, mRNA, or cDNA molecule that is isolated from the genome of a plant species, or produced synthetically, that increases Nicotiana nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis. Additionally, expression of such nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis sequence produces nicotinic alkaloids in a non-nicotine producing cell, such as an insect cell. The DNA or RNA may be double-stranded or single-stranded. Single-stranded DNA may be the coding strand, also known as the sense strand, or it may be the non-coding strand, also called the anti-sense strand.
[0102] It is understood that NBB1, A622, QPT, and PMT include the sequences set forth in SEQ ID NO: 1, 9, 3, 10, 5, 11, 7, and 12, respectively, as well as nucleic acid molecules comprised of variants of SEQ ID NO: 1, 9, 3, 10, 5, 11, 7, and 12, with one or more bases deleted, substituted, inserted, or added, which variant codes for a polypeptide with nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis activity. Accordingly, sequences having “base sequences with one or more bases deleted, substituted, inserted, or added” retain physiological activity even when the encoded amino acid sequence has one or more amino acids substituted, deleted, inserted, or added. Additionally, multiple forms of A622, NBB1, QPTase, and PMTase may exist, which may be due to post-translational modification of a gene product, or to multiple forms of the respective PMT, QPT, A622, or NBB1 genes. Nucleotide sequences that have such modifications and that code for a nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis enzyme are included within the scope of the present invention.
[0103] For example, the poly A tail or 5′- or 3′-end, nontranslation regions may be deleted, and bases may be deleted to the extent that amino acids are deleted. Bases may also be substituted, as long as no frame shift results. Bases also may be “added” to the extent that amino acids are added. It is essential, however, that any such modification does not result in the loss of nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis enzyme activity. A modified DNA in this context can be obtained by modifying the DNA base sequences of the invention so that amino acids at specific sites are substituted, deleted, inserted, or added by site-specific mutagenesis, for example. Zoller & Smith, Nucleic Acid Res. 10: 6487-500 (1982).
[0104] A nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis sequence can be synthesized ab initio from the appropriate bases, for example, by using an appropriate protein sequence disclosed herein as a guide to create a DNA molecule that, though different from the native DNA sequence, results in the production of a protein with the same or similar amino acid sequence. This type of synthetic DNA molecule is useful when introducing a DNA sequence into a non-plant cell, coding for a heterologous protein, that reflects different (non-plant) codon usage frequencies and, if used unmodified, can result in inefficient translation by the host cell.
[0105] By “isolated” nucleic acid molecule(s) is intended a nucleic acid molecule, DNA or RNA, which has been removed from its native environment. For example, recombinant DNA molecules contained in a DNA construct are considered isolated for the purposes of the present invention. Further examples of isolated DNA molecules include recombinant DNA molecules maintained in heterologous host cells or DNA molecules that are purified, partially or substantially, in solution. Isolated RNA molecules include in vitro RNA transcripts of the DNA molecules of the present invention. Isolated nucleic acid molecules, according to the present invention, further include such molecules produced synthetically.
[0106] “Exogenous nucleic acid” refers to a nucleic acid, DNA or RNA, which has been introduced into a cell (or the cell's ancestor) through the efforts of humans. Such exogenous nucleic acid may be a copy of a sequence which is naturally found in the cell into which it was introduced, or fragments thereof.
[0107] In contrast, “endogenous nucleic acid” refers to a nucleic acid, gene, polynucleotide, DNA, RNA, mRNA, or cDNA molecule that is present in the genome of a plant or organism that is to be genetically engineered. An endogenous sequence is “native” to, i.e., indigenous to, the plant or organism that is to be genetically engineered.
[0108] “Heterologous nucleic acid” refers to a nucleic acid, DNA or RNA, which has been introduced into a cell (or the cell's ancestor) which is not a copy of a sequence naturally found in the cell into which it is introduced. Such heterologous nucleic acid may comprise segments that are a copy of a sequence which is naturally found in the cell into which it has been introduced, or fragments thereof.
[0109] A “chimeric nucleic acid” comprises a coding sequence or fragment thereof linked to a transcription initiation region that is different from the transcription initiation region with which it is associated in cells in which the coding sequence occurs naturally.
[0110] Unless otherwise indicated, all nucleotide sequences determined by sequencing a DNA molecule herein were determined using an automated DNA sequencer, such as the Model 373 from Applied Biosystems, Inc. Therefore, as is known in the art for any DNA sequence determined by this automated approach, any nucleotide sequence determined herein may contain some errors. Nucleotide sequences determined by automation are typically at least about 95% identical, more typically at least about 96% to at least about 99.9% identical to the actual nucleotide sequence of the sequenced DNA molecule. The actual sequence can be more precisely determined by other approaches including manual DNA sequencing methods well known in the art. As is also known in the art, a single insertion or deletion in a determined nucleotide sequence compared to the actual sequence will cause a frame shift in translation of the nucleotide sequence such that the predicted amino acid sequence encoded by a determined nucleotide sequence may be completely different from the amino acid sequence actually encoded by the sequenced DNA molecule, beginning at the point of such an insertion or deletion.
[0111] For the purpose of the invention, two sequences hybridize when they form a double-stranded complex in a hybridization solution of 6× SSC, 0.5% SDS, 5× Denhardt's solution and 100 μg of non-specific carrier DNA. See Ausubel et al., supra, at section 2.9, supplement 27 (1994). Sequences may hybridize at “moderate stringency,” which is defined as a temperature of 60° C. in a hybridization solution of 6× SSC, 0.5% SDS, 5× Denhardt's solution and 100 μg of non-specific carrier DNA. For “high stringency” hybridization, the temperature is increased to 68° C. Following the moderate stringency hybridization reaction, the nucleotides are washed in a solution of 2× SSC plus 0.05% SDS for five times at room temperature, with subsequent washes with 0.1× SSC plus 0.1% SDS at 60° C. for 1 h. For high stringency, the wash temperature is increased to 68° C. For the purpose of the invention, hybridized nucleotides are those that are detected using 1 ng of a radiolabeled probe having a specific radioactivity of 10,000 cpm/ng, where the hybridized nucleotides are clearly visible following exposure to X-ray film at −70° C. for no more than 72 hours.
[0112] The present application is directed to such nucleic acid molecules which are at least 60%, 65%, 70%, 75%, 80%, 85%, 90%, 95%, 96%, 97%, 98%, 99% or 100% identical to a nucleic acid sequence described in any of SEQ ID NO: 1, 9, 3, 10, 5, 11, 7, and 12. Preferred are nucleic acid molecules which are at least 95%, 96%, 97%, 98%, 99% or 100% identical to the nucleic acid sequence shown in any of SEQ ID NO: 1, 9, 3, 10, 5, 11, 7, and 12. Differences between two nucleic acid sequences may occur at the 5′ or 3′ terminal positions of the reference nucleotide sequence or anywhere between those terminal positions, interspersed either individually among nucleotides in the reference sequence or in one or more contiguous groups within the reference sequence.
[0113] As a practical matter, whether any particular nucleic acid molecule is at least 95%, 96%, 97%, 98% or 99% identical to a reference nucleotide sequence refers to a comparison made between two molecules using standard algorithms well known in the art and can be determined conventionally using publicly available computer programs such as the BLASTN algorithm. See Altschul et al., Nucleic Acids Res. 25: 3389-402 (1997).
[0114] The present invention further provides nucleic acid molecules comprising the nucleotide sequence of SEQ ID NOs.: 1, 1B, 3, 3B, 5, 5B, 7, and 7B, respectively, which encode an active nicotine biosynthesis enzyme, wherein the enzyme has amino acid sequence that corresponds to SEQ ID NO.: 2, 4, 6, and 8, respectively, and wherein the protein of the invention encompasses amino acid substitutions, additions and deletions that do not alter the function of the nicotine biosynthesis enzyme.
[0115] A “variant” is a nucleotide or amino acid sequence that deviates from the standard, or given, nucleotide or amino acid sequence of a particular gene or protein. The terms “isoform,” “isotype,” and “analog” also refer to “variant” forms of a nucleotide or an amino acid sequence. An amino acid sequence that is altered by the addition, removal, or substitution of one or more amino acids, or a change in nucleotide sequence, may be considered a “variant” sequence. The variant may have “conservative” changes, wherein a substituted amino acid has similar structural or chemical properties, e.g., replacement of leucine with isoleucine. A variant may have “nonconservative” changes, e.g., replacement of a glycine with a tryptophan. Analogous minor variations may also include amino acid deletions or insertions, or both. Guidance in determining which amino acid residues may be substituted, inserted, or deleted may be found using computer programs well known in the art such as Vector NTI Suite (InforMax, MD) software. “Variant” may also refer to a “shuffled gene” such as those described in Maxygen-assigned patents.

Nucleic Acid Constructs

[0116] In accordance with one aspect of the invention, a sequence that increases nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis is incorporated into a nucleic acid construct that is suitable for plant or cell transformation. Thus, such a nucleic acid construct can be used to overexpress at least one of A622, NBB1, PMT, and QPT in a plant, as well as express A622 and NBB1, for example, in a non-nicotine producing cell.
[0117] Recombinant nucleic acid constructs may be made using standard techniques. For example, the DNA sequence for transcription may be obtained by treating a vector containing said sequence with restriction enzymes to cut out the appropriate segment. The DNA sequence for transcription may also be generated by annealing and ligating synthetic oligonucleotides or by using synthetic oligonucleotides in a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to give suitable restriction sites at each end. The DNA sequence then is cloned into a vector containing suitable regulatory elements, such as upstream promoter and downstream terminator sequences.
[0118] An important aspect of the present invention is the use of nucleic acid constructs wherein a nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis-encoding sequence is operably linked to one or more regulatory sequences, which drive expression of the nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis-encoding sequence in certain cell types, organs, or tissues without unduly affecting normal development or physiology.
[0119] “Promoter” connotes a region of DNA upstream from the start of transcription that is involved in recognition and binding of RNA polymerase and other proteins to initiate transcription. A “constitutive promoter” is one that is active throughout the life of the plant and under most environmental conditions. Tissue-specific, tissue-preferred, cell type-specific, and inducible promoters constitute the class of “non-constitutive promoters.” “Operably linked” refers to a functional linkage between a promoter and a second sequence, where the promoter sequence initiates and mediates transcription of the DNA sequence corresponding to the second sequence. In general, “operably linked” means that the nucleic acid sequences being linked are contiguous.
[0120] Promoters useful for expression of a nucleic acid sequence introduced into a cell to increase expression of A622, NBB1, PMTase, or QPTase may be constitutive promoters, such as the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S promoter, or tissue-specific, tissue-preferred, cell type-specific, and inducible promoters. Preferred promoters include promoters which are active in root tissues, such as the tobacco RB7promoter (Hsu et al. Pestic. Sci. 44: 9-19 (1995); U.S. Pat. No. 5,459,252), maize promoter CRWAQ81 (US published patent application 20050097633); the Arabidopsis ARSK1 promoter (Hwang and Goodman, Plant J 8:37-43 (1995)), the maize MR7 promoter (U.S. Pat. No. 5,837,848), the maize ZRP2 promoter (U.S. Pat. No. 5,633,363), the maize MTL promoter (U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,466,785 and 6,018,099) the maize MRS1, MRS2, MRS3, and MRS4 promoters (U.S. Pat. App. 20050010974), an Arabidopsis cryptic promoter (U.S. Pat. App. 20030106105) and promoters that are activated under conditions that result in elevated expression of enzymes involved in nicotine biosynthesis such as the tobacco RD2 promoter (U.S. Pat. No. 5,837,876), PMT promoters (Shoji T. et al., Plant Cell Physiol. 41: 831-39 (2000b); WO 2002/038588) or an A622 promoter (Shoji T. et al., Plant Mol Biol. 50: 427-40 (2002)).
[0121] The vectors of the invention may also contain termination sequences, which are positioned downstream of the nucleic acid molecules of the invention, such that transcription of mRNA is terminated, and polyA sequences added. Exemplary of such terminators are the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S terminator and the nopaline synthase gene (Tnos) terminator. The expression vector also may contain enhancers, start codons, splicing signal sequences, and targeting sequences.
[0122] Expression vectors of the invention may also contain a selection marker by which transformed cells can be identified in culture. The marker may be associated with the heterologous nucleic acid molecule, i.e., the gene operably linked to a promoter. As used herein, the term “marker” refers to a gene encoding a trait or a phenotype that permits the selection of, or the screening for, a plant or cell containing the marker. In plants, for example, the marker gene will encode antibiotic or herbicide resistance. This allows for selection of transformed cells from among cells that are not transformed or transfected.
[0123] Examples of suitable selectable markers include adenosine deaminase, dihydrofolate reductase, hygromycin-B-phosphotransferase, thymidine kinase, xanthine-guanine phospho-ribosyltransferase, glyphosate and glufosinate resistance, and amino-glycoside 3′-O-phosphotransferase (kanamycin, neomycin and G418 resistance). These markers may include resistance to G418, hygromycin, bleomycin, kanamycin, and gentamicin. The construct may also contain the selectable marker gene Bar that confers resistance to herbicidal phosphinothricin analogs like ammonium gluphosinate. Thompson et al., EMBO J. 9: 2519-23 (1987). Other suitable selection markers are known as well.
[0124] Visible markers such as green florescent protein (GFP) may be used. Methods for identifying or selecting transformed plants based on the control of cell division have also been described. See WO 2000/052168 and WO 2001/059086.
[0125] Replication sequences, of bacterial or viral origin, may also be included to allow the vector to be cloned in a bacterial or phage host. Preferably, a broad host range prokaryotic origin of replication is used. A selectable marker for bacteria may be included to allow selection of bacterial cells bearing the desired construct. Suitable prokaryotic selectable markers also include resistance to antibiotics such as kanamycin or tetracycline.
[0126] Other nucleic acid sequences encoding additional functions may also be present in the vector, as is known in the art. For instance, when Agrobacterium is the host, T-DNA sequences may be included to facilitate the subsequent transfer to and incorporation into plant chromosomes.

Plants for Genetic Engineering

[0127] The present invention comprehends the genetic manipulation of a Nicotiana plant for increasing nicotinic alkaloid synthesis via introducing a polynucleotide sequence that encodes an enzyme in the pathway for nicotinic alkaloid synthesis. Additionally, the invention provides methods for producing nicotinic alkaloids and related compounds in non-nicotine producing plants, such as Arabidopsis thaliana and Atropa belladonna.
[0128] “Genetically engineered” (GE) encompasses any methodology for introducing a nucleic acid or specific mutation into a host organism. For example, a tobacco plant is genetically engineered when it is transformed with a polynucleotide sequence that increases expression of a gene, such as A622 or NBB1, and thereby increases nicotine levels. In contrast, a tobacco plant that is not transformed with a polynucleotide sequence is a control plant and is referred to as a “non-transformed” plant.
[0129] In the present context, the “genetically engineered” category includes “transgenic” plants and cells (see definition, infra), as well as plants and cells produced by means of targeted mutagenesis effected, for example, through the use of chimeric RNA/DNA oligonucleotides, as described by Beetham et al., Proc. Nat'l. Acad. Sci. USA 96: 8774-8778 (1999) and Zhu et al., loc. cit. at 8768-8773, or so-called “recombinagenic olionucleobases,” as described in PCT application WO 03/013226. Likewise, a genetically engineered plant or cell may be produced by the introduction of a modified virus, which, in turn, causes a genetic modification in the host, with results similar to those produced in a transgenic plant, as described herein. See, e.g., U.S. Pat. No. 4,407,956. Additionally, a genetically engineered plant or cell may be the product of any native approach (i.e., involving no foreign nucleotide sequences), implemented by introducing only nucleic acid sequences derived from the host species or from a sexually compatible species. See, e.g., U.S. published application No. 2004/0107455.
[0130] “Plant” is a term that encompasses whole plants, plant organs (e. g. leaves, stems, roots, etc.), seeds, differentiated or undifferentiated plant cells, and progeny of the same. Plant material includes, without limitation, seeds suspension cultures, embryos, meristematic regions, callus tissues, leaves, roots, shoots, stems, fruit, gametophytes, sporophytes, pollen, and microspores. The class of plants which can be used in the present invention is generally as broad as the class of higher plants amenable to genetic engineering techniques, including both monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous plants, as well as gymnosperms. A preferred nicotine-producing plant includes Nicotiana, Duboisia, Anthocericis and Salpiglessis genera in the Solanaceae or the Eclipta and Zinnia genera in the Compositae.
[0131] “Tobacco” refers to any plant in the Nicotiana genus that produces nicotinic alkaloids. Tobacco also refers to products comprising material produced by a Nicotiana plant, and therefore includes, for example, expanded tobacco, reconstituted tobacco, cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco or forms of smokeless tobacco, snuff and snus made from GE increased-nicotine tobacco. Examples of Nicotiana species include but are not limited to the following: Nicotiana acaulis, Nicotiana acuminata, Nicotiana acuminata var. multiflora, Nicotiana africana, Nicotiana alata, Nicotiana amplexicaulis, Nicotiana arentsii, Nicotiana attenuata, Nicotiana benavidesii, Nicotiana benthamiana, Nicotiana bigelovii, Nicotiana bonariensis, Nicotiana cavicola, Nicotiana clevelandii, Nicotiana cordifolia, Nicotiana corymbosa, Nicotiana debneyi, Nicotiana excelsior, Nicotiana forgetiana, Nicotiana fragrans, Nicotiana glauca, Nicotiana glutinosa, Nicotiana goodspeedii, Nicotiana gossei, Nicotiana hybrid, Nicotiana ingulba, Nicotiana kawakamii, Nicotiana knightiana, Nicotiana langsdorffii, Nicotiana linearis, Nicotiana longiflora, Nicotiana maritima, Nicotiana megalosiphon, Nicotiana miersii, Nicotiana noctiflora, Nicotiana nudicaulis, Nicotiana obtusifolia, Nicotiana occidentalis, Nicotiana occidentalis subsp. hesperis, Nicotiana otophora, Nicotiana paniculata, Nicotiana pauciflora, Nicotiana petunioides, Nicotiana plumbaginifolia, Nicotiana quadrivalvis, Nicotiana raimondii, Nicotiana repanda, Nicotiana rosulata, Nicotiana rosulata subsp. ingulba, Nicotiana rotundifolia, Nicotiana rustica, Nicotiana setchellii, Nicotiana simulans, Nicotiana solanifolia, Nicotiana spegazzinii, Nicotiana stocktonii, Nicotiana suaveolens, Nicotiana sylvestris, N. tabacum, Nicotiana thyrsiflora, Nicotiana tomentosa, Nicotiana tomentosiformis, Nicotiana trigonophylla, Nicotiana umbratica, Nicotiana undulata, Nicotiana velutina, Nicotiana wigandioides, and Nicotiana×sanderae.
[0132] In the present description, “tobacco hairy roots” refers to tobacco roots that have T-DNA from an Ri plasmid of Agrobacterium rhizogenes integrated in the genome and grow in culture without supplementation of auxin and other phytohormones. Tobacco hairy roots produce nicotinic alkaloids as roots of a tobacco plant do. These types of roots are characterized by fast growth, frequent branching, plagiotropism, and the ability to synthesize the same compounds as the roots of the intact plant. David et al., Biotechnology 2: 73-76. (1984). Roots of Solanaceae plants are the main site of tropane alkaloid biosynthesis, and hence hairy root cultures also are capable of accumulating high levels of these metabolites. For example, see Oksman-Caldentey & Arroo, “Regulation of tropane alkaloid metabolism in plants and plant cell cultures,” in METABOLIC ENGINEERING OF PLANT SECONDARY METABOLISM 253-81 (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000).

Non-Nicotine Producing Cells for Genetic Engineering

[0133] The invention contemplates genetically engineering “non-nicotine producing cells” with a nucleic acid sequence encoding an enzyme involved in the production of nicotinic alkaloids. Non-nicotine producing cells refer to a cell from any organism that does not produce nicotine. Illustrative cells include but are not limited to plant cells, such as Atropa belladonna, Arabidopsis thaliana, as well as insect, mammalian, yeast, fungal, algal, or bacterial cells. Suitable host cells are discussed further in Goeddel, GENE EXPRESSION TECHNOLOGY: METHODS IN ENZYMOLOGY 185, Academic Press, San Diego, Calif. (1990).
[0134] “Insect cell” refers to any insect cell that can be transformed with a gene encoding a nicotine biosynthesis enzyme and is capable of expressing in recoverable amounts the enzyme or its products. Illustrative insect cells include Sf9 cells (ATCC CRL 1711).
[0135] “Fungal cell” refers to any fungal cell that can be transformed with a gene encoding a nicotine biosynthesis enzyme and is capable of expressing in recoverable amounts the enzyme or its products. Illustrative fungal cells include yeast cells such as Saccharomyces cerivisae (Baldari, et al., 1987. EMBO J. 6: 229-234) and Pichia pastoris (e.g. P. pastoris KM714 available from Invitrogen). Cells of filamentous fungi such as Aspergillus and Trichoderma may also be used. Archer, et al., Antonie van Leeuwenhoek 65: 245-250 (2004).
[0136] “Bacterial cell” refers to any bacterial cell that can be transformed with a gene encoding a nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis enzyme and is capable of expressing in recoverable amounts the enzyme or its products. Illustrative bacterial cells include E. coli, such as E. coli strain M15/rep4, which is available commercially from QIAGEN.
[0137] “Mammalian cell” refers to any mammalian cell that can be transformed with a gene encoding a nicotine biosynthesis enzyme and is capable of expressing in recoverable amounts the enzyme or its products. Illustrative mammalian cells include Chinese hamster ovary cells (CHO) or COS cells. Mammalian cells may also include a fertilized oocyte or an embryonic stem cell into which nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis enzyme-coding sequences have been introduced. Such host cells can then be used to create non-human transgenic animals. Examples of systems for regulated expression of proteins in mamamlian cells include Clontech's Tet-Off and Tet-On gene expression systems and similar systems. Gossen and Bujard, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 89: 55475551 (1992).
[0138] “Algae cell” refers to any algae species that can be transformed with a gene encoding a nicotine biosynthesis enzyme without adversely affecting normal algae development or physiology. Illustrative algae cells include Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (Mayfield and Franklin, Vaccine 23: 1828-1832 (2005).
[0139] Because production of nicotinic alkaloids in an insect cell could adversely affect insect growth and development, an inducible expression system may mitigate adverse affects. For example, insect cells may be first grown under non-inducing conditions to a desired state and then expression of the enzyme is induced.
[0140] Additionally, cells expressing nicotinic alkaloid biosynthesis genes may be supplied with precursors to increase substrate availability for nicotinic alkaloid synthesis. Cells may be supplied with analogs of precursors which may be incorporated into analogs of naturally occurring nicotinic alkaloids.

Transformation and Selection

[0141] While nicotine is the major alkaloid in N. tabacum and some other species in the Nicotiana genus, other plants have nicotine-producing ability, including, for example, Duboisia, Anthocericis and Salpiglessis genera in the Solanaceae, and Eclipta and Zinnia genera in the Compositae. Using the inventive constructs and methods, nicotine may be produced in non-nicotine producing plants, such as Atropa belladonna and Arabidopsis thaliana, and cells, such as insect, fungal, and bacterial cells.
[0142] For the purposes of this description, a plant or non-nicotine producing cell, such as a fungal cell, may be transformed with a plasmid comprising one or more sequences, each operably linked to a promoter. For example, an illustrative vector may comprise a QPT sequence operably linked to a promoter. Likewise, the plasmid may comprise a QPT sequence operably linked to a promoter and an A622 sequence operably linked to a promoter. Alternatively, a plant or non-nicotine producing cell may be transformed with more than one plasmid. For example, a plant or non-nicotine producing cell may be transformed with a first plasmid comprising a QPT sequence operably linked to a promoter, which is distinct from a second plasmid comprising an A622 or NBB1 sequence. Of course, the first and second plasmids or portions thereof are introduced into the same cell.
[0143] Plant Transformation
[0144] “Transgenic plant” refers to a plant that comprises a nucleic acid sequence that also is present per se in another organism or species or that is optimized, relative to host codon usage, from another organism or species. Both monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous angiosperm or gymnosperm plant cells may be transformed in various ways known to the art. For example, see Klein et al., Biotechnology 4: 583-590 (1993); Bechtold et al., C. R. Acad. Sci. Paris 316:1194-1199 (1993); Bent et al., Mol. Gen. Genet. 204:383-396 (1986); Paszowski et al., EMBO J. 3: 2717-2722 (1984); Sagi et al., Plant Cell Rep. 13: 262-266 (1994). Agrobacterium species such as A. tumefaciens and A. rhizogenes can be used, for example, in accordance with Nagel et al., Microbiol Lett 67: 325 (1990). Additionally, plants may be transformed by Rhizobium, Sinorhizobium or Mesorhizobium transformation. Broothaerts et al., Nature 433:629-633 (2005).
[0145] For example, Agrobacterium may be transformed with a plant expression vector via, e.g., electroporation, after which the Agrobacterium is introduced to plant cells via, e.g., the well known leaf-disk method. Additional methods for accomplishing this include, but are not limited to, electroporation, particle gun bombardment, calcium phosphate precipitation, and polyethylene glycol fusion, transfer into germinating pollen grains, direct transformation (Lorz et al., Mol. Genet. 199: 179-182 (1985)), and other methods known to the art. If a selection marker, such as kanamycin resistance, is employed, it makes it easier to determine which cells have been successfully transformed. Marker genes may be included within pairs of recombination sites recognized by specific recombinases such as cre or flp to facilitate removal of the marker after selection. See U. S. published application No. 2004/0143874.
[0146] Transgenic plants without marker genes may be produced using a second plasmid comprising a nucleic acid encoding the marker, distinct from a first plasmid that comprises an A622 or NBB1 sequence. The first and second plasmids or portions thereof are introduced into the same plant cell, such that the selectable marker gene that is transiently expressed, transformed plant cells are identified, and transformed plants are obtained in which the A622 or NBB1 sequence is stably integrated into the genome and the selectable marker gene is not stably integrated. See U. S. published application No. 2003/0221213. The first plasmid that comprises an A622 or NBB1 sequence may optionally be a binary vector with a T-DNA region that is completely made up of nucleic acid sequences present in wild-type non-transgenic N. tabacum or sexually compatible Nicotiana species.
[0147] The Agrobacterium transformation methods discussed above are known to be useful for transforming dicots. Additionally, de la Pena et al., Nature 325: 274-276 (1987), Rhodes et al., Science 240: 204-207 (1988), and Shimamato et al., Nature 328: 274-276 (1989) have transformed cereal monocots using Agrobacterium. Also see Bechtold et al., C.R. Acad. Sci. Paris 316 (1994), illustrating vacuum infiltration for Agrobacterium-mediated transformation.
[0148] Methods of regenerating a transgenic plant from a transformed cell or culture vary according to the plant species but are based on known methodology. For example, methods for regenerating of transgenic tobacco plants are well-known. Genetically engineered plants are selected that have increased expression of at least one of A622, NBB1, PMT, and QPT. Additionally, the inventive genetically engineered plants may have increased nicotine levels and yield.
[0149] Non-Nicotine Producing Cell Transformation
[0150] Constructs according to the invention may be used to transform any cell, using a suitable transformation technique, such as Agrobacterium-mediated transformation for plant cells, particle bombardment, electroporation, and polyethylene glycol fusion, calcium phosphate transfection, DEAE-dextran mediated transfection, or cationic lipid-mediated transfection.
[0151] Non-nicotine producing cells may be transformed with nucleic acid constructs of the present invention without the use of a selectable or visible marker and transgenic organisms may be identified by detecting the presence of the introduced construct. The presence of a protein, polypeptide, or nucleic acid molecule in a particular cell can be measured to determine if, for example, a cell has been successfully transformed or transfected. For example, and as routine in the art, the presence of the introduced construct can be detected by PCR or other suitable methods for detecting a specific nucleic acid or polypeptide sequence. Additionally, transformed cells may be identified by recognizing differences in the growth rate or a morphological feature of a transformed cell compared to the growth rate or a morphological feature of a non-transformed cell that is cultured under similar conditions. See WO 2004/076625.
[0152] For the purposes of the present description, genetically engineered cells are selected that express A622 and NBB1 heterologously.

Quantifying Nicotinic Alkaloid Content

[0153] Genetically engineered plants and cells are characterized by increased nicotinic alkaloid content. Similarly, transformed non-nicotine producing cells are characterized by nicotinic alkaloid production.
[0154] In describing a plant of the invention, the phrase “increased nicotine or nicotinic alkaloid content” refers to an increase in the amount of nicotinic alkaloid in the plant or cell when compared with a non-transformed control plant or cell. “Increased nicotine plant” encompasses a genetically engineered plant that has an increase in nicotine content greater than 10%, and preferably greater than 50%, 100%, or 200% of the nicotine content of a control plant of the same species or variety.
[0155] A successfully transformed non-nicotine producing cell is characterized by nicotinic alkaloid synthesis. For example, a transformed non-nicotine producing cell may produce nicotine, whereas a non-transformed control cell does not.
[0156] A quantitative increase in nicotinic alkaloid levels can be assayed by several methods, as for example by quantification based on gas-liquid chromatography, high performance liquid chromatography, radio-immunoassays, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. In the present invention, nicotinic alkaloid levels were measured by gas-liquid chromatography equipped with a capillary column and an FID detector, as described in Hibi et al., Plant Physiology 100: 826-35 (1992).

Quantifying Yield

[0157] Genetically engineered plants and cells of the invention are characterized by increased nicotinic alkaloid content and yield. Nicotinic alkaloid production in the genetically engineered plants is preferably achieved by expressing a nicotine biosynthesis pathway gene, such as A622, NBB1, PMT, or QPT.
[0158] In describing a plant of the invention, the phrase “increased yield” or “high yielding” refers to an increase in the amount of yield of a plant or crop of said plant when compared to an increased-nicotine control plant or crop of said plant. “Increased yield plant” encompasses a genetically engineered plant that yields the same as a plant or crop or said plant as an increased-nicotine plant or crop of said plant, preferably greater than 110%, and more preferably greater than 125% of the yield of a nicotine-enriched control plant of the same species or variety.
[0159] A quantitative increase in photosynthetic efficiency can be assayed by several methods, as for example by quantifying photosynthetic rates, such as gas exchange and CO2 fixation, and chlorophyll florescence. Miyagawa et al., Plant Cell Physiol. 41, 311-320 (2000). Photosynthetic rates may also be quantified by measuring metabolite and carbohydrate levels as described by Leegood, Carbon Metabolism In Photosynthesis and production in a changing environment: a field and laboratory manual (eds Hall, Scurlock, Bolhar-Nordenkampf, Leegood, & Long) 247-267 (Chapman & Hall, London; 1993). Alternatively, photosynthetic activity may be calculated based on enzyme activity, such as Rubisco activity. Portis, A. R. J. Exp. Bot. 46:1285-1291 (1995).
[0160] Of course, increased yield can be determined by measuring more readily discernible characteristics, including but not limited to plant height, weight, leaf size, time to flowering, number of seeds produced, and seed weight.

Increased-Nicotine Products

[0161] The present invention provides a genetically engineered plant having increased-nicotine levels, as well as a genetically engineered non-nicotine producing cell that produces nicotine or related compounds, where said cell is derived from an organism that does not produce nicotine. A variety of products may be made from such a genetically engineered plant. Likewise, products can be made from cells that are genetically engineered for production of nicotine or related compounds.
[0162] Herbivore-Resistant Plant
[0163] Nicotine serves as a natural pesticide which helps protect tobacco plants from damage by pests. It has been show that conventionally bred or transgenic low-nicotine tobacco have increased susceptibility to insect damage. Legg, P. D., et al., Can. J. Cyto., 13:287-291 (1971); Voelckel, C., et al., Chemoecology 11:121-126 (2001); Steppuhn, A., et al., PLoS Biol, 2(8): e217: 1074-1080 (2004). Using the inventive methods and constructs, increased-nicotine plants may be produced that have increased resistance to insect and other pest damage. Similarly, increased pest resistance may achieved in non-nicotine producing plants, such as A. belladonna and A. thaliana, that are genetically engineered according to the present invention to produce nicotine.
[0164] Increased-Nicotine Tobacco Products
[0165] The inventive constructs and methods may be used to produce, for example, cigarettes, cigars, and other traditional tobacco products such as snuff and snus. Additionally, increased-nicotine cigarettes may be produced that have reduced-exposure to smoke components, such as tar, yet have similar or increased nicotine deliveries as conventional cigarettes.
[0166] In the present description, an increased-nicotine tobacco product may be in the form of leaf tobacco, shredded tobacco, cut rag tobacco, ground tobacco, reconstituted tobacco, expanded or puffed tobacco and tobacco fractions including, for example, nicotine. An increased-nicotine tobacco product may include cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobaccos, and any form of smokeless tobacco such as snuff, snus, or chewing tobacco.
[0167] Blending different tobacco types or cultivars within a tobacco product such as a cigarette is common in tobacco art. It will therefore be appreciated that increased-nicotine tobacco could be blended at any percentage with non-transformed tobacco to obtain any level of desired nicotine content, up to the nicotine content of the increased nicotine tobacco utilized, to manufacture a tobacco product.
[0168] Increased nicotine cigarettes are particularly advantageous because studies demonstrate that when nicotine is increased, smokers inhale less tar and carbon monoxide. See Armitage et al., Psychopharmacology 96:447-453 (1988); Fagerström, Psychopharmacology 77:164-167 (1982); Russell, Nicotine and Public Health 15:265-284 (2000) and Woodman et al., European Journal of Respiratory Disease 70:316-321 (1987).
[0169] Cigarette smoke is an extremely complex mixture of more than 4,000 different compounds. Green & Rodgman, Recent Advances in Tobacco Science 22: 131-304 (1996); IOM Report, page 9 of executive summary. Cigarette smoke is made up of two phases: a particulate phase, which is commonly called “tar” or total particulate matter, and a vapor phase, which contains gases and semi-volatile compounds. A common definition for “tar” is “nicotine-free dry smoke” or “nicotine-free dry particulate matter” (NFDPM) captured by a Cambridge pad when a cigarette is machine smoked. More specifically, “tar” is the total particulate matter isolated from smoke, excluding water and nicotine. Tar makes up less than ten percent of the weight of cigarette smoke. Yet, it is the tar component that contains the majority of the most harmful smoke compounds.
[0170] Analytical methods combined with sensitive biological assays have led to the identification of 69 carcinogens in tobacco smoke. See THE CHANGING CIGARETTE: CHEMICAL STUDIES AND BIOASSAYS, Chapter 5, Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph No. 13 (NIH Pub. No. 02-5074, October 2001). It has become clear to researchers, however, that not all components of cigarette smoke have equal toxicity. Notably, the first U.S. Surgeon General's report on smoking in 1964 came to the conclusion that nicotine was probably not toxic at the levels inhaled by smokers, with the implication that the source of the primary pharmacologic reward to smokers was not of immediate concern. The Surgeon General's 1964 report stated, at page 74, that “[t]here is no acceptable evidence that prolonged exposure to nicotine creates either dangerous functional changes of an objective nature or degenerative diseases.”
[0171] In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows the sale of nicotine replacement products such as patches and chewing gum for use in smoking cessation therapy. These products may deliver more nicotine in one day than a pack of cigarettes. Page 167 of the IOM Report states, “Many studies of nicotine suggest that nicotine is unlikely to be a cancer-causing agent in humans or, at worst, that its carcinogenicity would be trivial compared to that of other components of tobacco. The consideration of nicotine as a carcinogenic agent, if at all, is trivial compared to the risk of other tobacco constituents.”
[0172] Cigarettes are generally rated by the FTC's (in the U.S.) or ISO's smoking-machine methods which determine, for example, the amount of tar and nicotine generated when a cigarette is smoked by a machine in accordance with standardized conditions. See Pillsbury et al., J. Assoc. Off. Analytical Chem. (1969); ISO: 4387 (1991). Most commercial cigarettes generally yield about 10 to 15 parts “tar” to every 1 part nicotine, measured in milligrams, as analyzed in PCT application WO 2005/018307. Many public health officials believe that the current FTC/ISO machine smoking regime is flawed since these methodologies fail to take into account human smoking behavior which is primarily driven by nicotine seeking. In other words, these methods don't consider compensatory smoking. Compensatory smoking or compensation, as it is also called, essentially means over smoking (smoking more intensively) due to the reduced presence of nicotine in tobacco smoke or under smoking (smoking less intensively) due to the increased presence of nicotine. See Benowitz, N. Compensatory Smoking of Low Yield Cigarettes, NCI Monograph 13.
[0173] Novel smoking-machine methods are currently being evaluated, especially those that consider compensatory smoking of low-yield brands. An example is a method involving the adjustment of smoking parameters so that brands with lower ISO nicotine yields are machine smoked more intensely. Kozlowski and O'Connor Lancet 355: 2159 (2000). Other proposed methods measure yields of toxins on a per nicotine unit basis or at a defined “target” nicotine yield. This is achieved, for example, by systematically varying puff volume, puff interval, and blockage of ventilation holes until the target nicotine yield is reached. Cigarettes can then be rated on the effort required to get the target nicotine yield as well as on toxin delivery at that yield. Consumers would benefit from these smoking-machine methods since comparisons of specific toxins among different brands could be evaluated.
[0174] Studies have suggested that many smokers inhale just as much smoke with most “light” and “ultra-light” cigarettes as full flavor cigarettes (Gori and Lynch, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 5:314-326). Smokers may compensate or smoke lower-yield cigarettes (per the FTC or ISO method) more aggressively (than higher-yield cigarettes) in order to obtain their desired nicotine impact and mouth feel of smoke, which are important sensory properties. Rose, J. E. “The role of upper airway stimulation in smoking,” in Nicotine Replacement: A Critical Evaluation, p. 95-106, 1988.
[0175] The manner in which a smoker may compensate include the frequency of puffs per cigarette and volume of smoke inhalation of such puffs, duration of the smoke inhalation being held before exhaling, number of cigarettes smoked within a specified time period, and the percentage of each cigarette that is smoked (how far down the cigarette is smoked).
[0176] When the percentage of nicotine per unit of inhaled smoke volume increases, many smokers may compensate and inhale less smoke. Gori G. B., Virtually Safe Cigarettes. Reviving an opportunity once tragically rejected. IOS Press. Amsterdam, (2000). The higher the percentage of nicotine in cigarette tobacco, the higher the percentage of nicotine in cigarette smoke. More specifically, the higher the percentage of nicotine in a cigarette's filler, the higher the percentage of nicotine in cigarette smoke. “Filler” means any smokable material that is rolled within a cigarette or cigarette-like device and includes (a) all tobaccos, including but not limited to reconstituted and expanded tobaccos, (b) any non-tobacco substitutes that may accompany (a); (c) tobacco casings, (d) other additives including flavorings that (a), (b) or (c) are supplemented with. A cigarette-like device is any device specifically intended to deliver nicotine through an alternative “smoke” aerosol formed by heating tobacco materials. Characteristics of such devices are that they contain a high content of glycerin or a glycerin substitute with minimal or no combustion pyrolysis. Glycerin when heated, vaporizes rapidly and forms an aerosol that can be inhaled and is very similar in appearance and feel to conventional cigarette smoke.
[0177] Therefore, the nicotine content of tobacco filler contained within a cigarette or cigarette-like device, all other factors held constant (including but not limited to, the type of filter, cigarette paper including its porosity, plug wraps, and tipping paper utilized, and the amount of filter ventilation), would roughly have to double for a corresponding two-fold increase of nicotine in mainstream cigarette smoke. Further, the nicotine content of tobacco filler contained within a cigarette or cigarette-like device, all other factors held constant, would roughly have to triple for a corresponding three-fold increase of nicotine in mainstream cigarette smoke. The calculations in this section refer to protonated nicotine in the mainstream smoke of a cigarette augmented with the described increase in nicotine levels and not “free” or “volatile” nicotine.
[0178] In one preferred embodiment of the invention a reduced-exposure cigarette is manufactured comprising an increased-nicotine tobacco plant having up to a two-fold increase of nicotine. In another preferred embodiment of the present invention a reduced-exposure cigarette is manufactured comprising an increased-nicotine tobacco having greater than a two-fold increase of nicotine.
[0179] The variety testing program conducted through the Agricultural Research Service at North Carolina State University evaluates breeding lines through the Regional Minimum Standards Program and commercial varieties through the North Carolina Official Variety Test (NCOVT). The reported total alkaloid concentration of flue-cured commercial varieties in the NCOVT, Three-Year Average from 2001-2003, range from 2.45 to 3.17 percent. Smith et al., “Variety Information,” Chapter 3 in: NORTH CAROLINA OFFICIAL VARIETY TEST (2004), Table 3.1. The three-year average total alkaloid concentration was 2.5 percent for K-326, the cultivar utilized in Examples 4-6 and 9-14. The Spectrometric method is used to measure total alkaloid content of tobacco cultivars in the above NCOVT and for purposes of measuring total alkaloid content of tobacco and increased-nicotine plants of the present invention. USA/Technical Advisory Group ISO/TC 126—Tobacco and tobacco products: ISO/DIS 2881. As disclosed herein including within the figures, it is apparent that some increased-nicotine plants have the capacity to at least double or even more than triple the nicotine accumulation of the wild-type K326 controls. Likewise, in Examples 4 to 6, NBB1 and A622 overexpression produces a two- or even a three-fold increase in nicotine compared with wild-type controls.
[0180] “Curing” is the aging process that reduces moisture and brings about the destruction of chlorophyll giving tobacco leaves a golden color and by which starch is converted to sugar. Cured tobacco therefore has a higher reducing sugar content and a lower starch content compared to harvested green leaf “Flue-cured tobacco” refers to a method of drying tobacco plants in a ventilated barn with heat and is characterized by a unique color, high reducing sugar content, medium to heavy in body and exceptionally smooth smoking properties. Bacon et al., Ind. Eng. Chem. 44: 292 (1952).
[0181] Tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) are a class of carcinogens that are predominantly formed during curing and processing. Hoffman, D., et al., J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 58, 1841-4 (1977); Wiernik A et al., Recent Adv. Tob. Sci, (1995), 21: 39-80. TSNAs, such as 4-(N-nitrosomethylamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK), N′-nitrosonornicotine (NNN), N′-nitrosoanatabine (NAT), and N′-nitrosoanabasine (NAB), are formed by N-nitrosation of nicotine and other minor Nicotiana alkaloids, such as nornicotine, anatabine, and anabasine.
[0182] Increased-nicotine tobacco may contain higher nitrosamines since there is a positive correlation between alkaloid content in tobacco and TSNA accumulation. For example, a significant correlation coefficient between anatabine and NAT was found to be 0.76. Djordjevic et al., J. Agric. Food Chem., 37: 752-56 (1989). However, U.S. Pat. No. 5,803,081, U.S. Pat. No. 6,135,121, U.S. Pat. No. 6,805,134, U.S. Pat. No. 6,895,974 and U.S. Pat. No. 6,959,712 and U.S. Published Applications 2005/0034365, 2005/0072047, 2005/0223442, 2006/0041949, and PCT published application WO 2006/091194, and others, discuss methodology to reduce tobacco-specific nitrosamines, which can be applied to a tobacco product that utilizes the subject invention.
[0183] Accordingly, the present invention provides constructs and methodology for producing cigarettes and other tobacco products containing increased nicotine levels. A desirable reduced-exposure cigarette should deliver a smoker's desired level of nicotine per cigarette as efficiently as possible while maintaining acceptable taste. See WO 05/018307.
[0184] Reconstituted Tobacco, Expanded Tobacco and Blending
[0185] Increased-nicotine tobacco also may be used to produce reconstituted sheet tobacco (Recon) and expanded tobacco or puffed tobacco. Recon can be produced from the following: tobacco dust, stems, small leaf particles, other byproducts of tobacco processing and cigarette manufacturing, and sometimes straight whole leaf. The recon process, which varies by manufacturer, closely resembles the typical paper making process and entails processing the various tobacco fractions and then cutting the recon sheets into a size and shape that resembles cigarette tobacco (cut-rag tobacco).
[0186] In addition, increased-nicotine tobacco may be used, according to the present invention, to produce expanded tobacco, also known as puffed tobacco, which is an important component in many cigarette brands. Expanded tobacco is made through expansion of suitable gases, whereby the tobacco is “puffed,” resulting in reduced density and greater filling capacity, which in turn reduces the weight of tobacco used in cigarettes. By using increased-nicotine tobacco as a starting material, cigarettes made with the resultant expanded tobacco will yield reduced ratios of toxic chemicals, such as tar and carbon monoxide, to nicotine.
[0187] Increased-nicotine expanded tobacco, increased-nicotine Recon, and increased-nicotine cut-rag tobacco can be blended at any percentage among the three or with any percentages of non-transformed expanded tobacco, non-transformed recon or non-transformed cut-rag to produce cigarette filler containing varying nicotine contents. Any such blend is then incorporated into the cigarette making process according to standard methods known in the art.
[0188] Tobacco products other than cigarettes utilizing GE increased-nicotine tobacco are manufactured using any of the tobacco plant material described herein according to standard methods known in the art. In one embodiment, tobacco products are manufactured comprising plant material obtained from increased-nicotine tobacco. The increased-nicotine content can be up to greater than three times that of wild type cultivars.
[0189] Nicotinic Alkaloid Enzymes and Analogs
[0190] In addition to traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco, the present invention provides methodology for producing nicotine and nicotine analogs, as well as enzymes for synthesis of nicotine and nicotine analogs. These compounds may be produced by genetically engineered nicotine-producing plants and non-nicotine producing cells, as well as in a cell-free/in vitro system.
[0191] Because recent studies suggest a role for nicotine receptors in treating a variety of conditions and disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, central and autonomic nervous systems dysfunction, and addictions, there is a need for nicotine receptor ligand sources. For example, the inventive methods and constructs may be used for producing nicotinic alkaloids. It has been shown that transgenic hairy root cultures overexpressing PMT provide an effective means for large-scale commercial production of scopolamine, a pharmaceutically important tropane alkaloid. Zhang et al., Proc. Nat'l Acad. Sci. USA 101: 6786-91 (2004). Accordingly, large-scale or commercial quantities of nicotinic alkaloids can be produced in tobacco hairy root culture by expressing at least one of A622 and NBB1. Likewise, the present invention contemplates cell culture systems, such as bacterial or insect cell cultures, for producing large-scale or commercial quantities of nicotine by expressing A622 and NBB1.
[0192] Additionally, products can be made directly using the activity of NBB1 and A622 enzymes. For example, recombinant NBB1 and A622 enzymes may be used for the synthesis, or partial synthesis, of nicotinic alkaloids or nicotinic alkaloid analogs. Accordingly, large-scale or commercial quantities of A622 and NBB1 can be produced by a variety of methods, including extracting recombinant enzyme from a genetically engineered plant, cell, or culture system, including but not limited to hairy root cultures, insect, bacterial, fungal, plant, algae, and mammalian cell culture, or in vitro.
[0193] Specific examples are presented below of methods for identifying sequences encoding enzymes involved in nicotine biosynthesis, as well as for introducing the target gene to produce plant transformants. They are meant to be exemplary and not as limitations on the present invention.

Example 1: Identification of NBB1 as a Gene Regulated by the NIC Loci

[0194] A cDNA microarray prepared from a Nicotiana sylvestris-derived cDNA library, see Katoh et al., Proc. Japan Acad. 79, Ser. B: 151-54 (2003), was used to search for novel genes which are controlled by the nicotine biosynthesis regulatory NIC loci.
[0195] N. sylvestris cDNAs were amplified by PCR and spotted onto mirror-coated slides (type 7 star, Amersham) using an Amersham Lucidea array spotter. DNA was immobilized on the slide surface by UV crosslinking (120 mJ/m2). N. tabacum Burley 21 plantlets (WT and nic1nic2) were grown on half-strength B5 medium supplemented with 1.5% (W/V) sucrose and 0.35% (W/V) gellan gum (Wako) in Agripot containers (Kirin).
[0196] Roots of eight-week-old plantlets were harvested, immediately frozen with liquid nitrogen, and kept at −80° C. until use. Total RNA was isolated using Plant RNeasy Mini kit (Qiagen) from the frozen roots, and mRNA was purified using GenElute mRNA Miniprep kit (Sigma). cDNA was synthesized from 0.4 μg of the purified mRNA by using LabelStar Array Kit (Qiagen) in the presence of Cy3 or Cy5-dCTP (Amersham). cDNA hybridization to the microarray slides and post-hybridization washes were performed using a Lucidea SlidePro hybridization machine (Amersham). Microarrays were scanned using an FLA-8000 scanner (Fujifilm). Acquired array images were quantified for signal intensity with ArrayGauge software (Fujifilm). cDNA probes from wild type and nic1nic2 tobacco were labeled with Cy3 and Cy5 in reciprocal pair-wise combinations. Hybridization signals were normalized by accounting for the total signal intensity of dyes. cDNA clones which hybridized to wild-type probes more than twice as strongly compared to nic1nic2 probes were identified, and these included NBB1.
[0197] Full-length NBB1 cDNA was obtained by 5′- and 3′-RACE from total RNA of N. tabacum by using a SMART RACE cDNA Amplification Kit (Clontech). The resultant full-length NBB1 cDNA sequence was cloned into pGEM-T vector (Promega) to give pGEMT-NBB1cDNAfull.
[0198] The nucleotide sequence of the NBB1 cDNA insert was determined on both strands using an ABI PRISM® 3100 Genetic Analyzer (Applied Biosystems) and a BigDye® Terminator v3.1 Cycle Sequencing Kit (Applied Biosystems). The NBB1 full-length cDNA is set forth in SEQ ID NO: 1. The amino acid sequence encoded by the nucleotide sequence is set forth in SEQ ID NO: 2. The protein sequence includes a FAD-binding motif. A putative vacuolar signal peptide is located at the N-terminus.

Example 2: Characterization of NBB1

[0199] NBB1 expression in tobacco plants was investigated by Northern blot analysis.
[0200] Plants of Nicotiana tabacum cv. Burley 21 (abbreviated below as WT) and mutant lines in which nic1, nic2 or both nic1 and nic2 mutations had been introduced in the Burley 21 background were grown in vitro for 2 months at 25° C. with 150 μmole photons/m2 of light (16 h light, 8 h dark) on ½×B5 medium with 3% sucrose and 0.3% gellan gum. The plants were treated with methyl jasmonate vapor by adding 0.5 mL of 100 μM methyl jasmonate to an Agripot container (Kirin, Tokyo) with a solid medium capacity of 80 cm3 and a gas capacity of 250 cm3 containing the plants. The treatment times were set at 0 h and 24 h. The root parts and leaf parts (2nd through 6th leaves from a plant body with a total of 7 to 10 leaves) were collected from the plant bodies and immediately stored frozen using liquid nitrogen.
[0201] RNA was extracted using an RNeasy Midi Kit (Qiagen) according to the manufacturer's protocol. However, polyvinyl pyrrolidine was added to a concentration of 1% to RLT Buffer in the Qiagen kit. The column operation was performed twice to increase the purity of the RNA.
[0202] RNA blotting was carried out according to the methods given by Sambrook and Russell (Sambrook, J. et al., Molecular Cloning, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Chapter 7 (2001)).
[0203] The sequence fragment from 1278 bp through the end (1759 bp) of the NBB1 nucleotide sequence (SEQ ID NO: 1) was used as the probe template. The template was prepared by amplification from the cDNA clone by PCR using the following primers:
[0204] 
[00001] [TABLE-US-00001]
  primer 1:   GGAAAACTAACAACGGAATCTCT   (SEQ ID NO: 13)
 
  primer 2:   GATCAAGCTATTGCTTTCCCT   (SEQ ID NO: 14)
[0205] The probe was labeled with 32P using a Bcabest labeling kit (Takara) according to the manufacturer's instructions. Hybridization was accomplished using ULTRAhyb (Ambion) as the buffer according to the manufacturer's protocol.
[0206] PMT probe was prepared from a PMT sequence cloned into a pcDNAII vector in E. coli (Hibi et al., 1994). The plasmid was extracted and purified from the E. coli using a QIAprep Spin Miniprep Kit (Qiagen), treated with the restriction enzymes XbaI and HindIII by ordinary methods, and the digested DNA was electrophoresed through an agarose gel. DNA fragments of about 1.5 kb were collected using a QIAquick Gel Extraction Kit (Qiagen). The collected DNA fragments were 32P labeled by the same methods used for the NBB1 probe, and hybridized.
[0207] As FIG. 1 shows, NBB1 and PMT have the same pattern of expression in tobacco plants. Evidence that NBB1 is involved in nicotine biosynthesis is that, like PMT, NBB1 is under the control of the NIC genes, and it exhibits a similar pattern of expression to PMT.

Example 3: Phylogenetic Analysis of NBB1

[0208] NBB1 polypeptide has 25% identity and 60% homology to the Eschscholzia californica berberine bridge enzyme (BBE). Dittrich et al., Proc. Nat'l Acad. Sci. USA 88: 9969-73 (1991)). An alignment of the NBB1 polypeptide with EcBBE is shown in FIG. 2.
[0209] A phylogenetic tree was constructed using the sequences of NBB1 polypeptide and plant BBE-like polypeptides, based on Carter & Thornburg, Plant Physiol. 134: 460-69 (2004). The phylogenetic analysis was performed using neighbor-joining method with the CLUSTAL W program. Numbers indicate bootstrap values from 1,000 replicates. The sequences used were: EcBBE, California poppy BBE (GenBank accession no. AF005655); PsBBE, opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) probable reticuline oxidase (AF025430); BsBBE, barberry (Berberis stolonifera) BBE (AF049347); VuCPRD2, cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) drought-induced protein (AB056448); NspNEC5, Nicotiana sp. Nectarin V (AF503441/AF503442); HaCHOX, sunflower (Helianthus annuus) carbohydrate oxidase (AF472609); LsCHOX, lettuce (Lactuca sativa) carbohydrate oxidase (AF472608); and 27 Arabidopsis genes (At1g01980, At1g11770, At1g26380, At1g26390, At1g26400, At1g26410, At1g26420, At1g30700, At1g30710, At1g30720, At1g30730, At1g30740, At1g30760, At1g34575, At2g34790, At2g34810, At4g20800, At4g20820, At4g20830, At4g20840, At4g20860, At5g44360, At5g44380, At5g44390, At5g44400, At5g44410, and At5g44440).
[0210] The results are shown in FIG. 3. The three known BBEs form a separate clade and are underlined and indicated as “True BBEs.” The sequence of NBB1 is not highly similar to any of the BBE or BBE-like proteins, and is separated from the other sequences at the base of the tree. The only other BBE-like protein described from the genus Nicotiana, nectarin V, a protein described in nectar of the a hybrid ornamental Nicotiana langsdorffii×N. sanderae, Carter and Thornburg (2004), clusters with the cowpea drought-induced protein and several putative BBE-like proteins from Arabidopsis. Because the nectar of the ornamental tobacco lacks alkaloids and nectarin V has glucose oxidase activity, it was concluded that nectarin V is involved in antimicrobial defense in flowers and is not likely to have any role in alkaloid synthesis. Id.

Example 4: NBB1 Overexpression in Tobacco Hairy Roots

Preparation of NBB1 Overexpression Construct

[0211] An attB-NBB1 fragment was amplified by PCR using the pGEMT-NBB1cDNAfull vector of Example 1 as the template and two sets of primers; one set for the NBB1 gene-specific amplification (gene-specific primers) and another set to add the attB sequences (adapter primers). PCR conditions were those recommended by the manufacturer. The GATEWAY entry clone pDONR221-NBB1 was created by a BP recombination reaction between the attB-NBB1 PCR product and pDONR221(Invitrogen).

Gene-Specific Primers

[0212] 
[00002] [TABLE-US-00002]
    NBB1-attB1
  (SEQ ID NO: 15)
    5′ AAAAAGCAGGCTCACCATGTTTCCGCTCATAATTCTG
   
    NBB1-attB2
  (SEQ ID NO: 16)
    5′ AGAAAGCTGGGTTCATTCACTGCTATACTTGTGC

Adapter Primers
[0213] 
[00003] [TABLE-US-00003]
    attB1 adapter
  (SEQ ID NO: 17)
    5′ GGGGACAAGTTTGTACAAAAAAGCAGGCT
   
    attB2 adapter
  (SEQ ID NO: 18)
    5′ GGGGACCACTTTGTACAAGAAAGCTGGGT

Description of pTobRD2-DEST
[0214] A TobRD2 promoter region (SEQ ID NO: 5 in WO9705261) of 1,031 bp was amplified using Burley 21 genomic DNA as the template and the TobRD2 promoter-specific primers, and then digested with HindIII and XbaI.

TobRD2 Promoter-Specific Primers:

[0215] 
[00004] [TABLE-US-00004]
    TobRD2-01F
  (SEQ ID NO: 19)
  5′ AAAGCTTGGAAACATATTCAATACATTGTAG
    HindIII site is underlined.
   
    TobRD2-02R
  (SEQ ID NO: 20)
  5′ TCTAGATTCTACTACTATTTTATAAGTG
    XbaI site is underlined.
[0216] The resultant fragment was cloned between the HindIII and XbaI sites of pBI101H (supplied from Dr. Shuji Yokoi of NAIST; ref. Molecular Breeding 4: 269-275, 1998) resulting in plasmid pTobRD2-BI101H. A GATEWAY cassette containing attR recombination sites flanking a ccdB gene and a chloramphenicol-resistance gene was cloned between the XbaI and SacI sites of the pTobRD2-BI101H binary vector to produce the binary vector pTobRD2-DEST, which has a T-DNA region containing an NPTII gene expression cassette (Nos promoter-neomycin phosphotransferase II ORF-Nos terminator) and an HPT gene expression cassette (CaMV 35S promoter-hygromycin phosphotransferase ORF-Nos terminator) as selection markers flanking a TobRD2 promoter adjacent to a GATEWAY cassette. A diagram of the T-DNA region of pTobRD2-DEST is shown in FIG. 4A.
[0217] The NBB1 ORF was transferred by an LR reaction from the pDONR221-NBB1 vector to a GATEWAY binary vector pTobRD2-DEST, which was designed to express a cloned ORF under the TobRD2 promoter. A diagram of the T-DNA region of the final expression vector, pTobRD2-NBB1 ox, is shown in FIG. 4B.

Production of Transgenic Hairy Roots

[0218] The binary vector pTobRD2-NBB1ox was introduced to Agrobacterium rhizogenes strain 15834 by electroporation. Nicotiana tabacum cv. K326 wild-type plants were transformed by A. rhizogenes using a leaf-disc method, basically as described by Kanegae et al., Plant Physiol. 105:2:483-90 (1994). Kanamycin resistance (200 mg/L in B5 medium) was used as a selection marker for the pTobRD2-NBB1ox transformed lines (TN lines). Wild-type A. rhizogenes was used to produce control hairy root lines (WT lines). Tobacco hairy roots were grown in the B5 liquid medium at 27° C. under the dark condition for two weeks, and then harvested.

Procedure for Analyzing Expression

[0219] Expression levels of the NBB1 protein were analyzed by an immunoblot analysis. Hairy roots were frozen in liquid nitrogen, and immediately homogenized using a mortar and pestle in an extraction buffer (100 mM Tris-HCl pH6.8, 4% SDS, 20% glycerol) containing 1 mM phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride and 200 mM dithiothreitol. After centrifugation of the homogenates, soluble proteins in the supernatant were separated by SDS-PAGE. Immunoblot analysis was performed using an anti-NBB1 rabbit serum. The detailed procedures were reported previously. Shoji et al., Plant Mol. Biol., 50, 427-440 (2002). Immunoblots with anti-NBB1 antiserum show that the transgenic hairy root lines TN9 and TN17 have increased levels of NBB1 protein. See FIG. 5A.

Procedure for Analyzing Alkaloid Levels

[0220] Transgenic hairy roots were cultured for two weeks, collected, and freeze dried. 2 ml of 0.1 N. sulfuric acid was added to 19 mg of the freeze-dried sample. This suspension was sonicated for 15 minutes, and filtered. Ammonium hydroxide (0.1 ml, 28% NH3; Wako) was added to 1 ml of the filtrate, and the mixture was centrifuged for 10 minutes at 15,000 rpm. A sample of the supernatant (1 ml) was loaded onto an Extrelut-1 column (Merck) and let sit for 5 minutes. Alkaloids were eluted with 6 ml of chloroform. The eluted chloroform fraction was then dried under reduced pressure at 37° C. with an evaporator (Taitec Concentrator TC-8). The dried sample was dissolved in 50 μl of ethanol solution containing 0.1% dodecane. A gas chromatography apparatus (GC-14B, Shimadzu) equipped with a capillary column (Rtx-5Amine column, Restec) and an FID detector was used to analyze the samples. The column temperature was maintained at 100° C. for 10 min, elevated to 150° C. at 25° C./min, held at 150° C. for 1 min, elevated to 170° C. at 1° C./min, held at 170° C. for 2 min, elevated to 300° C. at 30° C./min, and then held at 300° C. for 10 min. Injection and detector temperature was 300° C. A 1 μl sample of the purified alkaloid preparation was injected, and alkaloid contents were measured by the internal standard method.
[0221] The hairy root lines transformed with the NBB1 overexpression vector pTobRD2-NBB1ox (TN9, TN17) have increased levels of nicotine and nornicotine compared to wild type hairy root lines. See FIG. 6.

Example 5: A622 Overexpression in Tobacco Hairy Roots

Preparation of A622 Overexpression Construct

[0222] An attB-A622 fragment was amplified using the pcDNAII-A622 vector, per Hibi et al, Plant Cell 6: 723-35 (1994), as the template, the A622-specific primers below, and adapter primers, as described above for Example 4.

Gene-Specific Primers

[0223] 
[00005] [TABLE-US-00005]
  A622-attB1
  (SEQ ID NO: 21)
  5′ AAAAAGCAGGCTTCGAAGGAGATAGAACCATGGTTGTATCAGAGAAA
  AGCA
 
  A622-attB2
  (SEQ ID NO: 22)
  5′ AGAAAGCTGGGTCCTAGACAAATTTGTTGTAGAACTCGTCG
[0224] The amplified A622 fragment was cloned into the pDONR221 vector by BP reaction, resulting in pDONR-A622, and then the A622 fragment was transferred from pDONR-A622 to pTobRD2-DEST by an LR reaction. The resultant expression vector was referred to as pTobRD2-A622ox. A diagram of the T-DNA region of pTobRD2-A622ox is shown in FIG. 4C.

Production of Transgenic Hairy Roots

[0225] N. tabacum cv. K326 wild-type plants were transformed by A. rhizogenes 15834 containing the pTobRD2-A622ox vector, as described above for Example 4. Transgenic hairy roots carrying the T-DNA from pTobRD2-A622ox were referred to as TA lines, and cultured as described above in Example 4.

Procedure for Analyzing Expression

[0226] Immunoblot analysis was performed as described above in Example 4, except that anti-A622 mouse serum was used for A622 protein detection. Hairy root lines TA11, TA14, TA21 transformed with the A622 overexpression vector have higher levels of A622 protein. See FIG. 5B

Procedure for Analysis of Alkaloid Levels

[0227] Tobacco alkaloids were extracted, purified, and analyzed as described above in Example 4. Hairy root lines TA11, TA14, TA21 transformed with the A622 overexpression vector have higher levels of nicotine and nornicotine. See FIG. 6.

Example 6: NBB1 and A622 Overexpression in Tobacco Hairy Roots

Preparation of A622 and NBB1 Overexpression Construct

[0228] In order to express both A622 and NBB1 proteins from a single T-DNA, the TobRD2-A622 expression cassette and the TobRD2-NBB1 expression cassette were cloned in tandem in a binary vector. The TobRD2-A622 cassette was cut from pTobRD2-A622ox with HindIII, and then cloned into the HindIII site at the 5′ end of the TobRD2 promoter in pTobRD2-NBB1ox. The resultant vector for overexpression of both NBB1 and A622 was referred to as pTobRD2-A622ox-NBB1ox. A diagram of the T-DNA region of pTobRD2-A622ox-NBB1ox is shown in FIG. 4D.

Production of Transgenic Hairy Roots

[0229] Nicotiana tabacum cv. K326 wild-type plants were transformed by A. rhizogenes 15834 containing the pTobRD2-A622ox-NBB1 ox vector, as described above for Example 4. Transgenic hairy roots carrying the T-DNA from pTobRD2-A622ox-NBB1ox were referred to as TNA lines, and cultured as described above in Example 4.

Procedure for Analyzing Expression

[0230] Immunoblot analysis was performed as described above in Example 4, except that both anti-A622 mouse serum and anti-NBB1 rabbit serum were used for protein detection. In the hairy root line TNA8 the expression level of both NBB1 (see FIG. 5A) and A622 (see FIG. 5B) are increased compared to wild type hairy root lines.

Procedure for Analyzing Alkaloid Levels

[0231] Tobacco alkaloids were extracted from hairy root line TNA8, purified, and analyzed as described above in Example 4. The levels of nicotine and nornicotine are higher in line TNA8 than in wild type hairy root lines. (See FIG. 6)

Example 7: Transgenic A. belladonna Plants Expressing A622 Protein

[0232] Atropa belladonna produces tropane alkaloids, hyoscyamine and scopolamine, which are derived from the N-methylpyrrolinium cation, but does not contain nicotine alkaloids, possibly due to the absence of NBB1 and A622 genes.
[0233] Tobacco A622 cDNA containing an introduced NcoI site at the first ATG was excised from the pcDNAII-A622 vector (Hibi et al. 1994) as an NcoI-BamHI fragment and cloned into pRTL2 (Restrepo et al., Plant Cell 2:987-98 (1990)) under the control of a CaMV35S promoter with a duplicated enhancer. This A622 overexpression cassette was excised with HindIII and cloned in a binary vector pGA482 (Amersham) to produce the A622 expression vector pGA-A622.

Production of Transgenic Plants

[0234] The binary vector pGA-A622 was introduced to A. tumefaciens strain EHA105 by electroporation. A. belladonna plants were transformed by A. tumefaciens using a leaf-disk method, basically as described by Kanegae et al., (Plant Physiol. 105(2):483-90 (1994)). Kanamycin resistance (200 mg/L in MS/B5 medium) was used as a selection marker for the pGA-A622 transformation. Transgenic 35S-A622 plants were regenerated from the leaf discs, grown at 22° C. under continuous light in a growth chamber.

Procedure for Analyzing Expression

[0235] Total proteins were extracted from leaves of wild-type and 35S-A622 T1 plants, as described above in Example 5 Immunoblot analysis was performed using anti-A622 mouse serum. Leaf tissues of the self-pollinated T1 generation plants that contained high amounts of A622 protein, such as line C1#3 (see FIG. 7), were used for alkaloid analysis.

Procedure for Analysis of Alkaloid Levels

[0236] Nicotinic alkaloids in transgenic A. belladonna plants were extracted with 1M H2SO4 and purified basically as described (Hashimoto et al., 1992). Alkaloids were identified by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) (Hewlett Packard 5890 series II/JEOL MStation JMS700 with HP-5ms column) after comparison of their mass spectra to those of authentic standards. The column temperature was maintained at 100° C. for 10 min, elevated to 150° C. at 25° C./min, held at 150° C. for 1 min, elevated to 170° C. at 1° C./min, held at 170° C. for 2 min, elevated to 300° C. at 30° C./min, and then held at 300° C. for 10 min. Introduction of A622 alone in A. belladonna did not result in accumulation of nicotine or other nicotine alkaloids.

Example 8: Transgenic A. belladonna Hairy Roots Expressing NBB1 Protein and A622 Protein

Preparation of NBB1 Overexpression Construct

[0237] To test whether the combination of NBB1 and A622 is sufficient for the coupling reaction of nicotinic alkaloids, we produced transgenic A. belladonna hairy roots that express both A622 and NBB1, by transforming leaves of the A622-expressing Atropa plants of Example 7 with A. rhizogenes strain 15834, which carries an NBB1 expression vector.

Description of pBI101H-E2113-DEST

[0238] The binary vector pBE2113 carrying CaMV35S promoter with a duplicated enhancer (E12) and 5′-upstream sequence of tobacco mosaic virus (Ω) was obtained from Dr. Yuko Ohashi, National Institute of Agrobiological Resources (Tsukuba, Japan), see Plant Cell Physiol. 37: 49-59 (1996), and was converted into a GATEWAY destination vector after the GATEWAY cassette, containing attR recombination sites flanking a ccdB gene and a chloramphenicol-resistance gene, was cloned between the XbaI and SacI sites in the vector, which replaced the β-glucronidase gene with the GATEWAY cassette. The resultant destination binary vector was digested with HindIII and SacI, and the HindIII-SacI fragment containing the E12-35S-Ω-GATEWAY cassette was cloned between the HindIII and SacI sites in pBI101H. The resultant destination binary vector was referred to as pBI101H-E2113-DEST. A diagram of the T-DNA region of pBI101H-E2113-DEST is shown in FIG. 4E.
[0239] NBB1 ORF was transferred from the pDONR221-NBB1-2 vector to the GATEWAY binary vector pBI101H-E2113-DEST by an LR reaction. The expression vector was referred to as pE1235SΩ-NBB1. A diagram of the T-DNA region of pE1235SΩ-NBB1 is shown in FIG. 4F.

Production of Transgenic Hairy Roots

[0240] The binary vector pE1235SΩ-NBB1 was introduced to A. rhizogenes strain 15834 by electroporation. Leaf tissues of the T1 generation plant containing a 35S-A622 cassette that expresses A662 (line C1#3) were transformed with A. rhizogenes carrying pE1235SΩ-NBB1 using a leaf-disc method, basically as described by Kanegae et al. (Plant Physiol. 105(2):483-90 (1994)). Hygromycine resistance (30 mg/L in B5 medium) was used as a selection marker. Transgenic hairy roots carrying the T-DNA from pE1235SΩ-NBB1 (line E) and transgenic hairy root infected wild-type A. rhizogenes without T-DNA as the control (WT line) were grown in the MS/B5 liquid medium for two weeks and then harvested.

Expression Analysis

[0241] Total proteins were extracted and immunoblot analysis was performed as described above in Example 4. Anti-A622 mouse serum was used for A622 protein detection, whereas anti-NBB1 rabbit serum was used for NBB1 protein detection. A transgenic A. belladonna hairy root line (E2) expresses high amounts of both NBB1 and A622 proteins (see FIG. 8).

Alkaloid Analysis

[0242] The transgenic A. belladonna E2 and WT hairy roots were cultured for 3 weeks in 100 ml of MS/B5 liquid medium containing 100 mg/l nicotinic acid. Nicotine alkaloids in E2 and WT hairy roots were extracted with 1M H2SO4 and purified basically as described (Hashimoto et al., 1992). Alkaloids were identified by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) (Hewlett Packard 5890 series II/JEOL MStation JMS700 with HP-5ms column) after comparison of their mass spectra to those of authentic standards. The column temperature was maintained at 100° C. for 10 min, elevated to 150° C. at 25° C./minute, held at 150° C. for 1 minute, elevated to 170° C. at 1° C./min, held at 170° C. for 2 minutes, elevated to 300° C. at 30° C./min, and then held at 300° C. for 10 minutes.
[0243] A small but distinct novel peak was detected (See peak 5 in FIG. 9). A peak corresponding to the peak 5 was not detectable in the WT line hairy roots. The compound of peak 5 showed an MS fragmentation profile identical to that of nicotine, as shown in FIG. 10. This demonstrated that expression of exogenous NBB1 and A622 are sufficient for nicotine formation in A. belladonna hairy roots.

Example 9: Increasing Nicotine Content by Expression of PMT Under Control of the A622 Promoter

Description of pA622pro-DEST

[0244] pA622pro-DEST has the NPTII gene expression cassette and the HPT gene expression cassette as selection markers. An A622 promoter of 1,407 bp was amplified using a vector containing the A622 promoter (Shoji et al., Plant Mol. Biol. 50, 427-440 (2002)) as the template and the A622 promoter-specific primers shown below, and digested with HindIII and XbaI. The resultant fragment was cloned between the HindIII and XbaI sites in pBI101H. The binary vector was converted into a GATEWAY destination vector after the GATEWAY cassette containing attR recombination sites flanking a ccdB gene and a chloramphenicol-resistance gene were cloned between the XbaI and SacI sites in the binary vector. See FIG. 11A.

A622 Promoter-Specific Primers

[0245] 
[00006] [TABLE-US-00006]
    A622pro-01F
  (SEQ ID NO: 23)
  5′ AAAAGCTTAGATCTCTCTTATGTTTCATG
    HindIII site is underlined.
   
    A622pro-02R
  (SEQ ID NO: 24)
  5′ TCTAGATTTACTCCTAGGGGAAGAAAAAAAGTAGC
    XbaI site is underlined.

Preparation of PMT Overexpression Construct
[0246] An attB-PMT fragment was amplified using the tobacco PMT vector in which PMT ORF (NCBI accession number; D28506) was cloned in the BstXI site of pcDNAII (Invitrogen) (See SEQ ID NO: 12) as the template, the gene-specific primers below, and attB sequence adapter primers, as described above in Example 4. A GATEWAY entry clone pDONR221-PMT was created by a BP recombination reaction between the attB-PMT PCR product and pDONR221 (Invitrogen).

Gene-Specific Primers

[0247] 
[00007] [TABLE-US-00007]
    PMT-attB1
  (SEQ ID NO: 25)
    5′ AAAAAGCAGGCTCAAAAATGGAAGTCATATC
   
    PMT-attB2
  (SEQ ID NO: 26)
    5′ AGAAAGCTGGGTTTAAGACTCGATCATACTTC
[0248] The PMT ORF was transferred from the pDONR221-PMT vector to the GATEWAY binary vector pA622pro-DEST by an LR reaction. The gene expression vector was referred to as pA622pro-PMTox. See FIG. 11B.

Production of Transgenic Tobacco Plants

[0249] pA622pro-PMTox was transformed into Agrobacterium tumefaciens strain EHA105, which was used to transform wild-type K326 leaves. Transgenic T0 shoots were regenerated, and were transferred to the rooting medium. Several rooted transgenic plants were transferred to soil.

Alkaloid Analysis

[0250] Alkaloids were extracted from the transgenic tobacco leaves and analyzed, as described above in Example 4. The nicotine content in leaves of plants sampled 36 days after transfer to soil was analyzed. Several transgenic lines transformed with pA622pro-PMTox showed greater nicotine accumulation than the control lines, in which wild-type K326 plants were transformed with the AG-GUS cassette. See FIG. 12.

Example 10: Increasing Nicotine Content by Expression of PMT Under Control of the TobRD2 Promoter

Preparation of PMT Overexpression Construct

[0251] The PMT ORF was transferred from the pDONR221-PMT vector to the GATEWAY binary vector pTobRD2-DEST (see FIG. 4A) by an LR reaction. The gene expression vector was referred to as pTobRD2-PMTox. See FIG. 11C.

Production of Transgenic Tobacco Plants

[0252] pTobRD2-PMTox was transformed into Agrobacterium tumefaciens strain EHA105, which was used to transform wild-type K326 leaves. Transgenic T0 shoots were regenerated, and were transferred to the rooting medium. Several rooted transgenic plants were transferred to soil.

Alkaloid Analysis

[0253] Alkaloids were extracted from the transgenic tobacco leaves and analyzed, as described above in Example 4. The nicotine content in leaves of plants sampled 36 days after transfer to soil was analyzed. Several transgenic lines showed greater nicotine accumulation than the control lines, in which wild-type K326 plants were transformed with a TobRD2-GUS cassette. See FIG. 13.

Example 11: Increasing Nicotine Content by Expression of QPT Under Control of the A622 Promoter

Preparation of QPT Overexpression Construct

[0254] The QPT ORF fragment (SEQ ID NO: 11) was amplified using the pBJY6 vector (supplied from Dr. Kenzo Nakamura, Nagoya University, Japan) as the template and the gene-specific primers shown below. A GATEWAY entry clone pENTR-QPT was created by a TOPO cloning reaction.

QPT Gene-Specific Primers

[0255] 
[00008] [TABLE-US-00008]
  QPT-F   5′ CACCATGTTTAGAGCTATTCC   (SEQ ID NO: 27)
 
  QPT-R   5′ TCATGCTCGTTTTGTACGCC   (SEQ ID NO: 28)
[0256] The QPT ORF was transferred from the pENTR-QPT vector to the GATEWAY binary vector pA622pro-DEST (see FIG. 11A) by an LR reaction. The gene expression vector was referred to as pA622pro-QPTox. See FIG. 11D.

Production of Transgenic Tobacco Plants

[0257] pA622pro-QPTox was transformed into Agrobacterium tumefaciens strain EHA105, which was used to transform wild-type K326 leaves. Transgenic T0 shoots were regenerated, and were transferred to the rooting medium. Several rooted transgenic plants were transferred to soil.

Analyzing Alkaloids

[0258] Alkaloids were extracted from the transgenic tobacco leaves and analyzed, as described above in Example 4. The nicotine content in leaves of plants sampled 36 days after transfer to soil was analyzed. Several transgenic lines showed greater nicotine accumulation than the control lines, in which wild-type K326 plants were transformed with an A622-GUS cassette. See FIG. 14.

Example 12: Increasing Nicotine Content by Expression of QPT Under Control of the TobRD2 Promoter

Preparation of QPT Overexpression Construct

[0259] The QPT ORF was transferred from the pDONR221-QPT vector to a GATEWAY binary vector pTobRD2-DEST (see FIG. 4A) by an LR reaction. The gene expression vector was referred to as pTobRD2-QPTox. See FIG. 11E.

Production of Transgenic Tobacco Plants

[0260] pTobRD2-QPTox was transformed into Agrobacterium tumefaciens strain EHA105, which was used to transform wild-type K326 leaves. Transgenic T0 shoots were regenerated, and were transferred to the rooting medium. Several rooted transgenic plants were transferred to soil.

Analyzing Alkaloids

[0261] Alkaloids were extracted from the transgenic tobacco leaves and analyzed, as described above in Example 4. The nicotine content in leaves of plants sampled 36 days after transfer to soil was analyzed. Several transgenic lines showed greater nicotine accumulation than the control lines, in which wild-type K326 plants were transformed with a TobRD2-GUS cassette. See FIG. 15.

Example 13: Increasing Nicotine Content by Expression of PMT and QPT Under Control of the A622 Promoter

Description of pBI221-A622pro-DEST

[0262] pBI221-A622pro-DEST was the basic vector for construction of multi-gene expression binary vector. An A622 promoter of 1,407 bp was amplified using the pUC19-A622profull-LUC vector as the template and the A622 promoter-specific primers, and digested with HindIII and XbaI. The resultant fragment was cloned between HindIII and XbaI sites in pBI221 (Clontech), which replaced the CaMV 35S promoter with the A622 promoter. The vector was converted into a GATEWAY destination vector after the GATEWAY cassette containing attR recombination sites flanking a ccdB gene and a chloramphenicol-resistance gene was cloned between the XbaI and SacI sites in the vector, which replaced the B-glucronidase gene with the GATEWAY cassette. Then, an HindIII-EcoRI adapter was inserted into the EcoRI site at the 3′ end of Nos terminator resulting in pBI221-A622pro-DEST.

Preparation of PMT-QPT Overexpression Construct

[0263] In order to overexpress both PMT and QPT proteins, the A622pro-PMT expression cassette and the A622pro-QPT expression cassette were cloned in tandem in a binary vector. First, the PMT ORF was transferred from the pDONR221-PMT vector to the GATEWAY binary vector pBI221-A622pro-DEST by an LR reaction. The gene expression vector was referred to as pBI221-A622pro-PMT. The pBI221-A622pro-PMT was digested with HindIII, and then cloned into the HindIII site at the 5′ end of A622 promoter of the pA622pro-QPTox vector. The resultant PMT-QPT expression vector was referred to as pA622pro-PMTox-QPTox. A diagram of the T-DNA region of pA622pro-PMTox-QPTox is shown in FIG. 11F.

Production of Transgenic Tobacco Plants

[0264] pA622pro-PMTox-QPTox was transformed into Agrobacterium tumefaciens strain EHA105, which was used to transform wild-type K326 leaves. Transgenic T0 shoots were regenerated, and were transferred to the rooting medium. Several rooted transgenic plants were transferred to soil.

Procedure for Analysis of Alkaloid Levels

[0265] Alkaloids were extracted from the transgenic tobacco leaves and analyzed, as described above in Example 4. The nicotine content in leaves of plants sampled 36 days after transfer to soil was analyzed. Several lines transformed with A622pro-PMTox-QPTox showed greater nicotine accumulation than the control lines, in which wild-type K326 plants were transformed with an A622-GUS cassette. See FIG. 16.

Example 14: Increasing Nicotine Content by Expression of PMT and QPT Under Control of the TobRD2 Promoter

Preparation of PMT-QPT Overexpression Construct

[0266] In order to overexpress both PMT and QPT proteins under control of the TobRD2, the TobRD2-PMT expression cassette and the TobRD2-QPT expression cassette were cloned in tandem in a binary vector. First, the PMT ORF was transferred from the pDONR221-PMT vector to a GATEWAY binary vector pBI221-TobRD2-DEST by an LR reaction. The gene expression vector was referred to as pBI221-TobRD2-PMT. The pBI221-TobRD2-PMT was digested with HindIII, and then cloned into the HindIII site at the 5′ end of TobRD2 promoter in pTobRD2-QPTox. The resultant PMT-QPT expression vector was referred to as pTobRD2-PMTox-QPTox. See FIG. 11G.

Production of Transgenic Tobacco Plants

[0267] pTobRD2-PMTox-QPTox was transformed into Agrobacterium tumefaciens strain EHA105, which was used to transform wild-type K326 leaves. Transgenic T0 shoots were regenerated, and were transferred to the rooting medium. Several rooted transgenic plants were transferred to soil.

Procedure for Analysis of Alkaloid Levels

[0268] Alkaloids were extracted from the transgenic tobacco leaves and analyzed, as described above in Example 4. The nicotine content in leaves of plants sampled 36 days after transfer to soil was analyzed. Several transgenic lines transformed with the TobRD2-PMTox-QPTox showed greater nicotine accumulation than the control lines, wild-type K326 plants transformed with a TobRD2-GUS cassette. See FIG. 17.

Example 15: Production of Nicotinic Alkaloids in Arabidopsis by Expression of NBB1 in Combination with Additional Alkaloid Biosynthetic Enzymes

[0269] Arabidopsis plants do not produce nicotinic alkaloids. However, a precursor of a number of nicotinic alkaloids, nicotinic acid, is a common metabolite. The effect of expressing both NBB1 and A622 together in Arabidopsis was tested. Because nicotine is an alkaloid of particular interest, expression of PMT was included to increase the availability of methylputrescine, a precursor of the pyrrolidine ring in nicotine.

Preparation of A622 Overexpression Construct

[0270] Tobacco A622 cDNA, which contains an introduced NcoI site at the first ATG (Hibi et al., 1994), was excised from pcDNAII (Invitrogen) as an NcoI-BamHI fragment and cloned into pRTL2 (Restrepo et al., Plant Cell 2:987-98 (1990)) under control of the CaMV35S promoter with a duplicated enhancer. This A622 overexpression cassette was excised with HindIII and cloned in a binary vector pGA482 (Amersham) to produce the A622 expression vector pGA-A622.

Production of Transgenic 35S-A622 Plants

[0271] The binary vector pGA-A622 was introduced to A. tumefaciens strain LBA4404 by electroporation. A. thaliana plants (ecotype: Wassilewskija (WS)) were transformed by A. tumefaciens using a callus induction-plant regeneration method, basically as described by Akama et al., Plant cell Reports 12: 7-11 (1992). Kanamycin resistance (50 mg/L on Shoot-Induction medium) was used as a selection marker for the pGA-A622 transformation. Transgenic plants were regenerated from the callus, grown at 23° C. under 16 h light/8 h dark condition in a growth chamber.

Preparation of NBB1- and PMT-Overexpression Construct

[0272] NBB1 ORF (SEQ ID NO: 9) was transferred from the pDONR221-NBB1-2 vector to a GATEWAY binary vector pGWB2 (see FIG. 18A) by LR reaction. The gene expression vector, in which NBB1 is linked to the CAMV 35S promoter, is referred to as p35S-NBB1. See FIG. 18B. Similarly, PMT ORF was transferred from the pDONR221-PMT vector to the pGWB2 by LR reaction. The gene expression vector is referred to as p35S-PMT. See FIG. 18C.

Production of Transgenic 35S-A622-35S-NBB1 Plants, 35S-A622-35S-PMT Plants and 35S-A622-35S-NBB1-35S-PMT Plants

[0273] The binary vectors p35S-NBB1 and p35S-PMT were introduced to A. tumefaciens strain EHA105 by electroporation. T1 generation plants carrying pGA-A622 were transformed by A. tumefaciens using a floral dip method, basically as described by Clough et al., Plant J. 16: 735-43 (1998). Hygromycin resistance (25 mg/L on Shoot-Induction medium) was used as a selection marker for the p35S-NBB1 and p35S-PMT transformations. Transgenic plants were grown at 23° C. under 16 h light/8 h dark condition in a growth chamber. Resultant transgenic plants were screened by genomic PCR using the 35S promoter primers and NBB1- or PMT-gene specific primers.

Primers for Screening the 35S-A622-35S-NBB1 Plants

[0274] 
[00009] [TABLE-US-00009]
    35S-F
  (SEQ ID NO: 29)
    5′ ACCCTTCCTCTATATAAGGAAG
   
    NBB1-l140
  (SEQ ID NO: 30)
    5′TGAGCCCAAGCTGTTTCAGAATCC

Primers for Screening the 35S-A622-35S-PMT Plants
[0275] 
[00010] [TABLE-US-00010]
  35S-F   5′ ACCCTTCCTCTATATAAGGAAG   (SEQ ID NO: 31)
 
  PMT-01R   5′ CGCTAAACTCTGAAAACCAGC   (SEQ ID NO: 32)
[0276] The PCR positive 35S-A622-35S-NBB1 plants and 35S-A622-35S-PMT plants were crossed to produce 35S-A622-35S-NBB1-35S-PMT plants. F1 progeny were screened by genomic PCR using each expression cassette specific primer pair.
[0277] Total proteins were extracted from the PCR-positive lines. Frozen roots were immediately homogenized in extraction buffer (100 mM Tris-HCl pH6.8, 4% SDS, 20% glycerol) containing 1 mM phenylmethyl sulfonyl fluoride and 200 mM dithiothreitol using mortar and pestle. After centrifugation of the homogenates, soluble proteins in the supernatant were separated by SDS-PAGE. Immunoblot analysis was performed using anti-A622 mouse serum for A622 protein detection and anti-NBB1 rabbit serum for NBB1 protein detection as described in Shoji et al., Plant Mol. Biol. 50: 427-40 (2002). Transgenic lines expression were obtained that contain both A622 and NBB1 polypeptides. See FIG. 19.

Procedure for Analyzing Alkaloid Levels

[0278] Transgenic lines expressing NBB1 and A622 were selected and used for the alkaloid analysis. Alkaloids were extracted from the transgenic tobacco leaves and analyzed, as described above in Example 4. As shown in FIG. 20, a new peak corresponding to the elution time of nicotine was found in the NBB1-A622-PMT line but not in the A622-PMT line. This shows that expression of NBB1 and A622 together is more effective than expression of A622 alone for production of nicotinic alkaloids in a plant that does not normally produce alkaloids.

Example 16: Expression of NBB1 and A622 in Non-Plant Cells

[0279] The Bac-to-Bac Expression System (Invitrogen) insect cell-baculovirus expression system was used to express NBB1 and A622 proteins with 6×His tags (SEQ ID NO: 34) in insect cells. In order to make the expression clone, NBB1 and A622 ORFs (SEQ ID NO: 9 and 10, respectively) were transferred from respective DONR vectors (pDONR-NBB1-2, pDONR-A622) to the GATEWAY vector pDEST10 (Invitrogen) by LR reactions. Resultant expression clones were referred to as pDEST10-NBB1 and pDEST10-A622.
[0280] pDEST10-NBB1 and pDEST10-A622 were transformed into MAX Efficiency DH10Bac Cells (Invitrogen), to recover the recombinant bacmid DNAs. PCR analysis using a gene specific primer and an M13 reverse primer was used to verify the presence of recombinant bacmids containing A622 and NBB1. See FIG. 21A.
[0281] Resultant recombinant bacmids containing respective gene expression cassettes were transfected to the insect cell Sf9 with Cellfectin (Invitrogen). The Sf9 cells were infected with the virus stocks in two rounds to amplify and scale-up the virus.
[0282] NBB1 and A622 were produced in the insect cell cultures, as shown by immunoblotting with anti-NBB1 and anti-A622 antisera. The recombinant proteins containing the 6×His tag were purified by adsorption on Ni-NTA columns followed by elution with 0.5 M imidazole. See FIG. 21B.
(57)

Claims

1. A method for increasing nicotine in a Nicotiana plant, comprising overexpressing NBB1 in the plant, wherein NBB1 is overexpressed by:
a) providing a genetically engineered Nicotiana plant that contains an expression construct comprising, in the 5′ to 3′ direction, a promoter operably linked to a heterologous nucleic acid molecule selected from the group consisting of:
(i) the nucleotide sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO: 1; and
(ii) a nucleotide sequence that encodes a polypeptide having the amino acid sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO: 2;
and
(b) growing the genetically engineered Nicotiana plant under conditions whereby the expression construct increases levels of NBB1 in the plant relative to a non-genetically engineered control plant grown under similar conditions,
wherein the genetically engineered Nicotiana plant has an increased nicotine content relative to the non-genetically engineered Nicotiana control plant.
2. The method according to claim 1, further comprising overexpressing at least one of quinolate phosphoribosyl transferase (QPT), putrescine methyl transferase (PMT), and A622.
3. The method according to claim 2, wherein QPT, PMT, A622, and a polypeptide having the amino acid sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO: 2 are overexpressed.
4. An increased nicotine Nicotiana plant produced by the method according to claim 1, wherein the plant has an increased nicotine content relative to a non-genetically engineered control plant.
5. An increased nicotine product produced from the increased nicotine Nicotiana plant according to claim 4, wherein the product comprises the expression construct.
6. The product according to claim 5, wherein the product is selected from the group consisting of a cigarette, cigarette tobacco, a cigar, cigar tobacco, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff, snus, leaf tobacco, shredded tobacco, cut tobacco, a pharmaceutical and a nutraceutical.
7. A method for increasing nicotine and yield in a Nicotiana plant, comprising:
(a) crossing an increased nicotine Nicotiana plant that expresses heterologous NBB1 with a high yielding Nicotiana plant; and
(b) selecting progeny plant with increased nicotine and high yield, wherein the plant has an increased nicotine content and yield relative to a non-transformed control plant.
8. The method according to claim 7, wherein the increased nicotine Nicotiana plant is produced by:
(a) transforming a Nicotiana plant with a construct comprising, in the 5′ to 3′ direction, a promoter operably linked to a heterologous nucleic acid molecule selected from the group consisting of:
(i) the nucleotide sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO: 1; and
(ii) nucleotide sequence that encodes a polypeptide having the amino acid sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO: 2;
(b) regenerating transgenic Nicotiana plants from the transformed Nicotiana plant; and
(c) selecting a transgenic Nicotiana plant having increased-nicotine content relative to a control plant,
wherein the plant has an increased nicotine content relative to a non-transformed control plant.
9. An increased nicotine and yield plant produced by the method of claim 8.
10. A method for increasing nicotine and yield in a Nicotiana plant, comprising:
(a) transforming a Nicotiana plant with (i) a first construct comprising, in the 5′ to 3′ direction, a promoter operably linked to a heterologous nucleic acid molecule selected from the group consisting of the nucleotide sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO: 1, and a nucleotide sequence that encodes a polypeptide having the amino acid sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO: 2; and (ii) a second construct comprising, in the 5′ to 3′ direction, a promoter operably linked to a heterologous nucleic acid encoding an enzyme that increases yield;
(b) regenerating transgenic Nicotiana plants from the transformed Nicotiana plant; and
(c) selecting a transgenic Nicotiana plant having increased-nicotine content and increased yield relative to a control plant,
where in the plant has an increased nicotine content and yield relative to a non-transformed control plant.
11. An increased nicotine and yield plant produced by the method of claim 10.
12. An increased nicotinic alkaloid product produced from the plant of claim 11, wherein the product is selected from the group consisting of a cigarette, cigarette tobacco, a cigar, cigar tobacco, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff, snus, leaf tobacco, shredded tobacco, cut tobacco, a pharmaceutical and a nutraceutical, wherein the product comprises the first and second constructs.
13. An increased nicotinic alkaloid product produced from the plant of claim 9, wherein the product is selected from the group consisting of a cigarette, cigarette tobacco, a cigar, cigar tobacco, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff, snus, leaf tobacco, shredded tobacco, cut tobacco, a pharmaceutical and a nutraceutical, wherein the product comprises the construct.
14. A method for increasing nicotine in a Nicotiana plant, comprising culturing the plant under conditions suitable for growth, wherein the plant comprises an expression construct comprising, in the 5′ to 3′ direction, a promoter operably linked to a heterologous nucleic acid molecule selected from the group consisting of:
(a) the nucleotide sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO: 1; and
(b) a nucleotide sequence that encodes a polypeptide having the amino acid sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO: 2,
wherein the plant overexpresses NBB1 and has an increased nicotine content relative to a non-transformed Nicotiana control plant.
15. The method of claim 14, further comprising overexpressing at least one of quinolate phosphoribosyl transferase (QPT), putrescine methyl transferase (PMT), and A622.
16. The method of claim 14, wherein QPT, PMT, A622, and a polypeptide having the amino acid sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO: 2 are overexpressed.
17. An increased nicotine Nicotiana plant produced by the method according to claim 14, wherein the plant has an increased nicotine content relative to a non-genetically engineered control plant.
18. An increased nicotine product produced from the increased Nicotiana plant according to claim 17, wherein the product is selected from the group consisting of a cigarette, cigarette tobacco, a cigar, cigar tobacco, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff, snus, leaf tobacco, shredded tobacco, cut tobacco, a pharmaceutical and a nutraceutical, wherein the product comprises the expression construct.
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