Date of this Version
Heat stress is a major constraint to wheat production and negatively impacts grain quality, causing tremendous economic losses, and may become a more troublesome factor due to global warming. At the cellular level, heat stress causes denaturation and aggregation of proteins and injury to membranes leading to alterations in metabolic fluxes. Protein aggregation is irreversible, and protection of proteins from thermal aggregation is a strategy a cell uses to tolerate heat stress. Here we report on the development of transgenic wheat (Triticum aestivum) events, expressing a maize gene coding for plastidal protein synthesis elongation factor (EF-Tu), which, compared to non-transgenic plants, display reduced thermal aggregation of leaf proteins, reduced heat injury to photosynthetic membranes (thylakoids), and enhanced rate of CO2 fixation after exposure to heat stress. The results support the concept that EF-Tu ameliorates negative effects of heat stress by acting as a molecular chaperone. This is the first demonstration of the introduction of a plastidal EF-Tu in plants that leads to protection against heat injury and enhanced photosynthesis after heat stress. This is also the first demonstration that a gene other than HSP gene can be used for improvement of heat tolerance and that the improvement is possible in a species that has a complex genome, hexaploid wheat. The results strongly suggest that heat tolerance of wheat, and possibly other crop plants, can be improved by modulating expression of plastidal EF-Tu and/or by selection of genotypes with increased endogenous levels of this protein.