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The Ectopic Expression of a Pectin Methyl Esterase Inhibitor Increases Pectin Methyl Esterification and Limits Fungal Diseases in Wheat

September 2011 , Volume 24 , Number  9
Pages  1,012 - 1,019

Chiara Volpi,1 Michela Janni,1 Vincenzo Lionetti,2 Daniela Bellincampi,2 Francesco Favaron,3 and Renato D'Ovidio1

1Department of Agrobiology and Agrochemistry, University of Tuscia, 01100 Viterbo, Italy; 2Department of Biology and Biotechnology “Charles Darwin”, University of Rome “Sapienza”, 00185 Rome; 3Department of Land, Environment, Agriculture and Forestry, University of Padua, Legnaro (PD), Italy.

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Accepted 9 May 2011.

Cell wall pectin methyl esterification can influence plant resistance because highly methyl-esterified pectin can be less susceptible to the hydrolysis by pectic enzymes such as fungal endopolygalacturonases (PG). Pectin is secreted into the cell wall in a highly methyl-esterified form and, here, is de-methyl esterified by pectin methyl esterase (PME). The activity of PME is controlled by specific protein inhibitors called PMEI; consequently, an increased inhibition of PME by PMEI might modify the pectin methyl esterification. In order to test the possibility of improving wheat resistance by modifying the methyl esterification of pectin cell wall, we have produced durum wheat transgenic lines expressing the PMEI from Actinidia chinensis (AcPMEI). The expression of AcPMEI endows wheat with a reduced endogenous PME activity, and transgenic lines expressing a high level of the inhibitor showed a significant increase in the degree of methyl esterification. These lines showed a significant reduction of disease symptoms caused by the fungal pathogens Bipolaris sorokiniana or Fusarium graminearum. This increased resistance was related to the impaired ability of these fungal pathogens to grow on methyl-esterified pectin and to a reduced activity of the fungal PG to hydrolyze methyl-esterified pectin. In addition to their importance for wheat improvement, these results highlight the primary role of pectin despite its low content in the wheat cell wall.

© 2011 The American Phytopathological Society