Biodegradation of atrazine by three transgenic grasses and alfalfa expressing a modified bacterial atrazine chlorohydrolase gene
Atrazine is one of the most widely used herbicides in the USA. Atrazine chlorohydrolase (AtzA), the first enzyme in a six-step pathway leading to the mineralization of atrazine in Gram-negative soil bacteria, catalyses the hydrolytic dechlorination and detoxification of atrazine to hydroxyatrazine. In this study, we investigated the potential use of transgenic plants expressing atzA to take up, dechlorinate and detoxify atrazine. Alfalfa, Arabidopsis thaliana and tobacco were transformed with a modified bacterial atzA gene, p-atzA, under the control of the cassava vein mosaic virus promoter. All transgenic plant species actively expressed p-atzA and grew over a wide range of atrazine concentrations. Thin layer chromatography analyses indicated that in planta expression of p-atzA resulted in the production of hydroxyatrazine. Hydroponically grown transgenic tobacco and alfalfa dechlorinated atrazine to hydroxyatrazine in leaves, stems and roots. Moreover, p-atzA was found to be useful as a conditional-positive selection system to isolate alfalfa and Arabidopsis transformants following Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. Our work suggests that the in planta expression of p-atzA may be useful for the development of plants for the phytoremediation of atrazine-contaminated soils and soil water, and as a marker gene to select for the integration of exogenous DNA into the plant genome.