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Altered Levels of Aroma and Volatiles by Metabolic Engineering of Shikimate Pathway Genes in Tomato Fruits

1 Department of Plant Sciences, The Weizmann Institute of Science, PO Box 26, Rehovot 76100, Israel;
2 The Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture, Faculty of Agricultural, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, PO Box 12, Rehovot 76100, Israel;
3 The Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA;
4 AB Seeds Ltd, PO Box 1 Misgav Ind. Area 2017900, Israel

Special Issues: Recent Advances in Metabolic Engineering

The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) fruit is an excellent source of antioxidants, dietary fibers, minerals and vitamins and therefore has been referred to as a “functional food”. Ripe tomato fruits produce a large number of specialized metabolites including volatile organic compounds. These volatiles serve as key components of the tomato fruit flavor, participate in plant pathogen and herbivore defense, and are used to attract seed dispersers. A major class of specialized metabolites is derived from the shikimate pathway followed by aromatic amino acid biosynthesis of phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan. We attempted to modify tomato fruit flavor by overexpressing key regulatory genes in the shikimate pathway. Bacterial genes encoding feedback-insensitive variants of 3-Deoxy-D-Arabino-Heptulosonate 7-Phosphate Synthase (DAHPS; AroG209-9) and bi-functional Chorismate Mutase/Prephenate Dehydratase (CM/PDT; PheA12) were expressed under the control of a fruit-specific promoter. We crossed these transgenes to generate tomato plants expressing both the AroG209 and PheA12 genes. Overexpression of the AroG209-9 gene had a dramatic effect on the overall metabolic profile of the fruit, including enhanced levels of multiple volatile and non-volatile metabolites. In contrast, the PheA12 overexpression line exhibited minor metabolic effects compared to the wild type fruit. Co-expression of both the AroG209-9 and PheA12 genes in tomato resulted overall in a similar metabolic effect to that of expressing only the AroG209-9 gene. However, the aroma ranking attributes of the tomato fruits from PheA12//AroG209-9 were unique and different from those of the lines expressing a single gene, suggesting a contribution of the PheA12 gene to the overall metabolic profile. We suggest that expression of bacterial genes encoding feedback-insensitive enzymes of the shikimate pathway in tomato fruits provides a useful metabolic engineering tool for the modification of fruits aroma and the generation of new combinations of tomato flavors.
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