Synechococcus sp. PCC7942, a fresh water cyanobacterium, was transformed by a shuttle plasmid that contains a 9-kb fragment encoding the Escherichia coli bet gene cluster, i.e. betA (choline dehydrogenase), betB (betaine aldehyde dehydrogenase), betI (a putative regulatory protein), and betT (the choline transport system). The expression of these genes was demonstrated in the cyanobacterial cells (bet-containing cells) by northern blot analysis, as well as by the detection of glycine betaine by 1H nuclear magnetic resonance in cells supplemented with choline. Endogenous choline was not detected in either control or bet-containing cells. Both control and bet-containing cyanobacterial cells were found to import choline in an energy-dependent process, although this import was restricted only to bet-containing cells in conditions of salt stress. Glycine betaine was found to accumulate to a concentration of 45 mM in bet-containing cyanobacterial cells, and this resulted in a stabilization of the photosynthetic activities of photosystems I and II, higher phycobilisome contents, and general protective effects against salt stress when compared to control cells. The growth of bet-containing cells was much faster in the presence of 0.375 M NaCl than that of control cells, indicating that the transformant acquired resistance to salt stress.
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