It has been reported that constitutive expression of the fatty acid desaturase enzyme increased the trienoic fatty acid content of thylakoid membranes in transgenic tobacco, allowing the membranes to remain fluid under cold conditions. While increased cold tolerance resulted from this genetic modification, plants with a constitutively expressed desaturase enzyme would not be particularly well suited for growth under warm temperatures. To increase the ability of plants to tolerate prolonged cold-storage and still perform under greenhouse production conditions (25 °C), a unique cold-inducible genetic construct was cloned and tested. The FAD7 gene, which encodes an omega-3-fatty acid desaturase enzyme, was put under the control of a cold-inducible promoter (cor15a) from Arabidopsis thaliana. Transgenic petunia plants (cv, Marco Polo Odyssey) harboring cor15a:FAD7 were established and conformed by PCR and Southern analysis. Therefore in our study, FAD7 gene expression was induced by exposure to cold temperatures and down regulated under normal growing conditions. RT-PCR indicated a marked increase in FAD7 expression between transgenic plants exposed to a short (3 days) cold treatment prior to long-term cold storage and those that did not receive a cold induction treatment. Transgenic and wild-type plants were induced in cold (3 °C) for 3 days, returned for normal greenhouse conditions for 5 days and then subjected 3 weeks of continuous cold storage. It was observed that two out of eight transgenic lines showed superior cold tolerance relative to wild-type petunia plants. Additionally, plants that showed cold tolerance completely recovered; growing and flowering normally when returned to the 25 °C greenhouse conditions.
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