BACKGROUND: Monitoring gene flow could be important for future transgenic crops, such as those producing plant-made-pharmaceuticals (PMPs) in open field production. A Nicotiana hybrid (Nicotiana. tabacum x Nicotiana glauca) shows limited male fertility and could be used as a bioconfined PMP platform. Effective assessment of gene flow from these plants is augmented with methods that utilize fluorescent proteins for transgenic pollen identification.

RESULTS: We report the generation of a pollen tagging system utilizing an orange fluorescent protein to monitor pollen flow and as a visual assessment of transgene zygosity of the parent plant. This system was created to generate a tagged Nicotiana hybrid that could be used for the incidence of gene flow. Nicotiana tabacum 'TN 90' and Nicotiana glauca were successfully transformed via Agrobacterium tumefaciens to express the orange fluorescent protein gene, tdTomato-ER, in pollen and a green fluorescent protein gene, mgfp5-er, was expressed in vegetative structures of the plant. Hybrids were created that utilized the fluorescent proteins as a research tool for monitoring pollen movement and gene flow. Manual greenhouse crosses were used to assess hybrid sexual compatibility with N. tabacum, resulting in seed formation from hybrid pollination in 2% of crosses, which yielded non-viable seed. Pollen transfer to the hybrid formed seed in 19% of crosses and 10 out of 12 viable progeny showed GFP expression.

CONCLUSION: The orange fluorescent protein is visible when expressed in the pollen of N. glauca, N. tabacum, and the Nicotiana hybrid, although hybrid pollen did not appear as bright as the parent lines. The hybrid plants, which show limited ability to outcross, could provide bioconfinement with the benefit of detectable pollen using this system. Fluorescent protein-tagging could be a valuable tool for breeding and in vivo ecological monitoring.

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Published in BMC Research Notes, v. 6, no. 383.

© 2013 Rice et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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