A Vitis vinifera basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor enhances plant cell size, vegetative biomass and reproductive yield
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Strategies for improving plant size are critical targets for plant biotechnology to increase vegetative biomass or reproductive yield. To improve biomass production, a codon-optimized helix-loop-helix transcription factor (VvCEB1(opt)) from wine grape was overexpressed in Arabidopsis thaliana resulting in significantly increased leaf number, leaf and rosette area, fresh weight and dry weight. Cell size, but typically not cell number, was increased in all tissues resulting in increased vegetative biomass and reproductive organ size, number and seed yield. Ionomic analysis of leaves revealed the VvCEB1(opt)-overexpressing plants had significantly elevated, K, S and Mo contents relative to control lines. Increased K content likely drives increased osmotic potential within cells leading to greater cellular growth and expansion. To understand the mechanistic basis of VvCEB1(opt) action, one transgenic line was genotyped using RNA-Seq mRNA expression profiling and revealed a novel transcriptional reprogramming network with significant changes in mRNA abundance for genes with functions in delayed flowering, pathogen-defence responses, iron homeostasis, vesicle-mediated cell wall formation and auxin-mediated signalling and responses. Direct testing of VvCEB1(opt)-overexpressing plants showed that they had significantly elevated auxin content and a significantly increased number of lateral leaf primordia within meristems relative to controls, confirming that cell expansion and organ number proliferation were likely an auxin-mediated process. VvCEB1(opt) overexpression in Nicotiana sylvestris also showed larger cells, organ size and biomass demonstrating the potential applicability of this innovative strategy for improving plant biomass and reproductive yield in crops.
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