Pierce's disease (PD), caused by the xylem-limited bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, is endemic to the coastal plain of the southeastern United States. Although native southern grapevines are tolerant to X. fastidiosa, all varieties of Vitisvinifera grown in the region will succumb to PD. Genetic transformation to add disease resistance genes, while not disturbing desirable phenotypic characters, holds promise for expanding the southeastern U.S. grape industry by allowing use of established fruit and wine varieties. We utilize embryogenic cell cultures and Agrobacterium strain EHA105 to refine transformation systems for Vitis species and hybrids. V. vinifera`Thompson Seedless' is employed as a model variety to test various transgenes for disease resistance, since as many as 150 independent transgenic plant lines routinely are produced from 1 g of embryogenic culture material. Transgenic plants are stringently screened for PD resistance in greenhouses by mechanical inoculation with X. fastidiosa. Transgenic plants are compared with both susceptible and resistant control plants by assessing typical PD symptom development and by assaying bacterial populations in xylem sap over time. Using these procedures, nine putative PD resistance genes have been inserted into grapevine and over 900 unique transgenic lines have been evaluated. A range of susceptible-to-resistant responses has been catalogued. Thus far, the best construct for PD resistance contains a grape codon-optimized hybrid lytic peptide gene in a high-performance bi-directional 35S promoter complex. Certain transgenic plant lines containing this construct exhibit better resistance than that of resistant control vines.
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