a model system for bioengineering of starch in cereals
Background Starch is the most important source of calories for human nutrition and the majority of it is produced by cereal farming. Starch is also used as a renewable raw material in a range of industrial sectors. It can be chemically modified to introduce new physicochemical properties. In this way starch is adapted to a variety of specific end-uses. Recombinant DNA technologies offers an alternative to starch industrial processing. The plant biosynthetic pathway can be manipulated to design starches with novel structure and improved technological properties. In the future this may reduce or eliminate the economical and environmental costs of industrial modification. Recently, many advances have been achieved to clarify the genetic mechanism that controls starch biosynthesis. Several genes involved in the synthesis and modification of complex carbohydrates in many organisms have been identified and cloned. This knowledge suggests a number of strategies and a series of candidate genes for genetic transformation of crops to generate new types of starch-based polymers. However transformation of cereals is a slow process and there is no easy model system available to test the efficiency of candidate genes in planta. Results We explored the possibility to use transgenic barley callus generated from immature embryo for a fast test of transgenic modification strategies of starch biosynthesis. We found that this callus contains 4 % (w/w dw) starch granules, which we could modify by generating fully transgenic calli by Agrobacterium-transformation. A Green Fluorescent Protein reporter protein tag was used to identify and propagate only fully transgenic callus explants. Around 1 -- 1.5 g dry weight of fully transgenic callus could be produced in 9 weeks. Callus starch granules were smaller than endosperm starch granules and contained less amylose. Similarly the expression profile of starch biosynthesis genes were slightly different in callus compared with developing endosperm. Conclusions In this study we have developed an easy and rapid in planta model system for starch bioengineering in cereals. We suggest that this method can be used as a time-efficient model system for fast screening of candidate genes for the generation of modified starch or new types of carbohydrate polymers.