Microsomal ω-3 fatty acid desaturase catalyzes the conversion of 18:2 (linoleic acid) to 18:3 (α-linolenic acid) in phospholipids, which are the main constituents of extrachloroplast membranes. Transgenic tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) plants with increased 18:3 contents (designated SIIn plants) were produced through the introduction of a construct with the tobacco microsomal ω-3 fatty acid desaturase gene under the control of the highly efficient promoter containing the E12Ω sequence. 18:3 contents in the SIIn plants were increased by about 40% in roots and by about 10% in leaves compared with the control plants. With regard to growth at 15°C and 25°C and the ability to tolerate chilling at 1°C and 5°C, there were no discernible differences between the SIIn and the control plants. Freezing tolerance in leaves and roots, which was assessed by electrolyte leakage, was almost the same between the SIIn and the control plants. The fluidity of plasma membrane from the SIIn plants was almost the same as that of the control plants. These results indicate that an increase in the 18:3 level in phospholipids is not directly involved in compensation for the diminishment in growth or membrane properties observed under low temperatures.
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