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Open Access Research article

An efficient Foxtail mosaic virus vector system with reduced environmental risk

Zun Liu12 and Christopher M Kearney1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Baylor University, One Bear Place #7388, Waco, TX, 76798 USA

2 Endocrine Unit, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114 USA

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BMC Biotechnology 2010, 10:88  doi:10.1186/1472-6750-10-88

Published: 16 December 2010

Abstract

Background

Plant viral vectors offer high-yield expression of pharmaceutical and commercially important proteins with a minimum of cost and preparation time. The use of Agrobacterium tumefaciens has been introduced to deliver the viral vector as a transgene to each plant cell via a simple, nonsterile infiltration technique called "agroinoculation". With agroinoculation, a full length, systemically moving virus is no longer necessary for excellent protein yield, since the viral transgene is transcribed and replicates in every infiltrated cell. Viral genes may therefore be deleted to decrease the potential for accidental spread and persistence of the viral vector in the environment.

Results

In this study, both the coat protein (CP) and triple gene block (TGB) genetic segments were eliminated from Foxtail mosaic virus to create the "FECT" vector series, comprising a deletion of 29% of the genome. This viral vector is highly crippled and expresses little or no marker gene within the inoculated leaf. However, when co-agroinoculated with a silencing suppressor (p19 or HcPro), FECT expressed GFP at 40% total soluble protein in the tobacco host, Nicotiana benthamiana. The modified FoMV vector retained the full-length replicase ORF, the TGB1 subgenomic RNA leader sequence and either 0, 22 or 40 bases of TGB1 ORF (in vectors FECT0, FECT22 and FECT40, respectively). As well as N. benthamiana, infection of legumes was demonstrated. Despite many attempts, expression of GFP via syringe agroinoculation of various grass species was very low, reflecting the low Agrobacterium-mediated transformation rate of monocots.

Conclusions

The FECT/40 vector expresses foreign genes at a very high level, and yet has a greatly reduced biohazard potential. It can form no virions and can effectively replicate only in a plant with suppressed silencing.