The plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) plays important roles in seed maturation and dormancy and in adaptation to a variety of environmental stresses. An effort to engineer plants with elevated ABA levels and subsequent stress tolerance is focused on the genetic manipulation of the cleavage reaction. It has been shown in bean ( Phaseolus vulgaris ) that the gene encoding the cleavage enzyme ( PvNCED1 ) is up-regulated by water stress, preceding accumulation of ABA. Transgenic wild tobacco ( Nicotiana plumbaginifolia Viv.) plants were produced that overexpress the PvNCED1 gene either constitutively or in an inducible manner. The constitutive expression of PvNCED1 resulted in an increase in ABA and its catabolite, phaseic acid (PA). When the PvNCED1 gene was driven by the dexamethasone (DEX)-inducible promoter, a transient induction of PvNCED1 message and accumulation of ABA and PA were observed in different lines after application of DEX. Accumulation of ABA started to level off after 6 h, whereas the PA level continued to increase. In the presence of DEX, seeds from homozygous transgenic line TN1 showed a 4-d delay in germination. After spraying with DEX, the detached leaves from line TN1 had a drastic decrease in their water loss relative to control leaves. These plants also showed a marked increase in their tolerance to drought stress. These results indicate that it is possible to manipulate ABA levels in plants by overexpressing the key regulatory gene in ABA biosynthesis and that stress tolerance can be improved by increasing ABA levels.
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