Re-sequencing transgenic plants revealed rearrangements at T-DNA inserts, and integration of a short T-DNA fragment, but no increase of small mutations elsewhere

Schouten, Henk J.; Geest, Henri van de; Papadimitriou, Sofia; Bemer, Marian; Schaart, Jan G.; Smulders, Marinus J.M.; Perez, Gabino Sanchez; Schijlen, Elio


Key message: Transformation resulted in deletions and translocations at T-DNA inserts, but not in genome-wide small mutations. A tiny T-DNA splinter was detected that probably would remain undetected by conventional techniques. Abstract: We investigated to which extent Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated transformation is mutagenic, on top of inserting T-DNA. To prevent mutations due to in vitro propagation, we applied floral dip transformation of Arabidopsis thaliana. We re-sequenced the genomes of five primary transformants, and compared these to genomic sequences derived from a pool of four wild-type plants. By genome-wide comparisons, we identified ten small mutations in the genomes of the five transgenic plants, not correlated to the positions or number of T-DNA inserts. This mutation frequency is within the range of spontaneous mutations occurring during seed propagation in A. thaliana, as determined earlier. In addition, we detected small as well as large deletions specifically at the T-DNA insert sites. Furthermore, we detected partial T-DNA inserts, one of these a tiny 50-bp fragment originating from a central part of the T-DNA construct used, inserted into the plant genome without flanking other T-DNA. Because of its small size, we named this fragment a T-DNA splinter. As far as we know this is the first report of such a small T-DNA fragment insert in absence of any T-DNA border sequence. Finally, we found evidence for translocations from other chromosomes, flanking T-DNA inserts. In this study, we showed that next-generation sequencing (NGS) is a highly sensitive approach to detect T-DNA inserts in transgenic plants.