Enhancement of chilling tolerance of a cyanobacterium by genetic manipulation of fatty acid desaturation.
The sensitivity (or tolerance) of plants to chilling determines their choice of natural habitat and also limits the worldwide production of crops. Although the molecular mechanism for chilling sensitivity has long been debated, no definitive conclusion has so far been reached about its nature. A probable hypothesis, however, is that chilling injury is initiated by phase transition of lipids of cellular membranes, as demonstrated for cyanobacteria, which serve as a model system for the plant cells. Because the phase transition temperature depends on the degree of unsaturation of fatty acids of the membrane lipids, it is predicted that the chilling tolerance of plants can be altered by genetically manipulating fatty-acid desaturation by introducing double bonds into fatty acids of membrane lipids. Here we report the cloning of a gene for the plant-type desaturation (termed desA). The introduction of this gene from a chilling-resistant cyanobacterium, Synechocystis PCC6803, into a chilling-sensitive cyanobacterium, Anacystis nidulans, increases the tolerance of the recipient to low temperature.