Discovery of the gene controlling toxic constituents in green tomatoes (April 26, 2016)
Steroidal glycoalkaloids (SGAs) are cholesterol-derived specialized metabolites produced in species of the Solanaceae. A group led by Dr. Tsubasa Shoji reported that a group of jasmonate-responsive transcription factors of the ETHYLENE RESPONSE FACTOR (ERF) family (JREs) are close homologs of alkaloid regulators in Cathranthus roseus and tobacco, and regulate production of SGAs in tomatoes. In transgenic tomatoes, overexpression and dominant suppression of JRE genes caused drastic changes in SGA accumulation and in the expression of genes for metabolic enzymes involved in the multistep pathway leading to SGA biosynthesis, including the upstream mevalonate pathway. Transactivation and DNA-protein binding assays demonstrate that JRE4 activates the transcription of SGA biosynthetic genes by binding to GCC box-like elements in their promoters. These JRE-binding elements occur at significantly higher frequencies in proximal promoter regions of the genes regulated by JRE genes, supporting the conclusion that JREs mediate transcriptional co-ordination of a series of metabolic genes involved in SGA biosynthesis.