We are studying the horticultural performance of two model plant systems that carry a mutant gene that confers ethylene-insensitivity: Never Ripe tomatoes and petunia plants transformed with the mutant etr1-1 gene isolated from Arabidopsis thaliana. Having two model systems to compare side-by-side allows us to determine with greater certainty ethylene's role at different developmental stages. Presence of the mutant etr1-1 gene in transgenic petunias was determined using three techniques: PCR analysis, the seedling triple response assay (inhibition of stem elongation, radial swelling of stem and roots, and an exaggerated apical hook when grown in the dark and in the presence of ethylene), and the flower wilting response to pollination, which is known to be induced by ethylene. Flowers from ethylene-insensitive petunias took almost four times as long to wilt after pollination as wild-type plants. It is well known that fruit ripening in Never Ripe tomato is inhibited, and a similar delayed fruit ripening phenotype is observed in petunia plants transformed with etr1-1. In an effort to maintain ethylene-insensitive petunia plants by vegetative propagation, we observed that the rate of adventitious root formation was much lower with transgenic plants than in wild-type plants. In subsequent experiments on adventitious root formation in Never Ripe tomato, we observed the same result. Therefore, while ethylene-insensitive tomato and petunia plants appear phenotypically normal for many characters, other factors are altered by the presence of this mutation. The fact that these changes are present in two model systems helps to define the role of ethylene perception in plant growth and reproduction.
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