We engineered an expression unit composed of three eukaryotic genes driven by a single plant-active promoter and demonstrated functional expression in planta. The individual genes were linked as translational fusions to produce a polyprotein using spacer sequences encoding specific heptapeptide cleavage recognition sites for NIa protease of tobacco vein mottling virus (TVMV). The NIa gene itself was included as the second gene of the multi-gene unit. The first and third genes, obtained from the TR region of pTi15955, encoded enzymatic functions associated with the mannityl opine biosynthetic pathway. The mannityl opine conjugase gene (mas2) was the first unit of the construct and provided the native plant-active promoter and 5′ untranslated regulatory sequence. The third gene (mas1), encoding the mannityl opine reductase, furnished the native 3′ untranslated region. Cis-processing of the polyprotein by the NIa protease domain was demonstrated in vitro using rabbit reticulocyte lysate and wheat germ cell-free translation systems. Tobacco plant cells transformed with the multi-gene unit produced detectable levels of mannopine, mannopinic acid, and their biosynthetic intermediates, deoxyfructosyl-glutamate and deoxyfructosyl-glutamine. This indicates that the polygene construct results in a set of functional enzymatic activities that constitute a complete metabolic pathway.
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