Improved virus-induced gene silencing allows discovery of a serpentine synthase gene in Catharanthus roseus

Kotaro Yamamoto, Dagny Grzech, Konstantinos Koudounas, Emily Amor Stander, Lorenzo Caputi, Tetsuro Mimura, Vincent Courdavault, Sarah E. O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Specialized metabolites are chemically complex small molecules with a myriad of biological functions. To investigate plantspecialized metabolite biosynthesis more effectively, we developed an improved method for virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS). We designed a plasmid that incorporates fragments of both the target gene and knockdown marker gene (phytoene desaturase, PDS), which identifies tissues that have been successfully silenced in planta. To demonstrate the utility of this method, we used the terpenoid indole alkaloid (TIA) pathway in Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) as a model system. Catharanthus roseus is a medicinal plant well known for producing many bioactive compounds, such as vinblastine and vincristine. Our VIGS method enabled the discovery of a previously unknown biosynthetic enzyme, serpentine synthase (SS). This enzyme is a cytochrome P450 (CYP) that produces the b-carboline alkaloids serpentine and alstonine, compounds with strong blue autofluorescence and potential pharmacological activity. The discovery of this enzyme highlights the complexity of TIA biosynthesis and demonstrates the utility of this improved VIGS method for discovering unidentified metabolic enzymes in plants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)846-857
Number of pages12
JournalPlant Physiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Oct

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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