Background and Aims
The genus Nicotiana includes diploid and tetraploid species, with complementary ecological, agronomic and commercial characteristics. The species are of economic value for tobacco, as ornamentals, and for secondary plant-product biosynthesis. They show substantial differences in disease resistance because of their range of secondary products. In the last decade, sexual hybridization and transgenic technologies have tended to eclipse protoplast fusion for gene transfer. Somatic hybridization was exploited in the present investigation to generate a new hybrid combination involving two sexually incompatible tetraploid species. The somatic hybrid plants were characterized using molecular, molecular cytogenetic and phenotypic approaches.
Mesophyll protoplasts of the wild fungus-resistant species N. debneyi (2n = 4x = 48) were electrofused with those of the ornamental interspecific sexual hybrid N. × sanderae (2n = 2x = 18). From 1570 protoplast-derived cell colonies selected manually in five experiments, 580 tissues were sub-cultured to shoot regeneration medium. Regenerated plants were transferred to the glasshouse and screened for their morphology, chromosomal composition and disease resistance.
Eighty-nine regenerated plants flowered; five were confirmed as somatic hybrids by their intermediate morphology compared with parental plants, cytological constitution and DNA-marker analysis. Somatic hybrid plants had chromosome complements of 60 or 62. Chromosomes were identified to parental genomes by genomic in situ hybridization and included all 18 chromosomes from N. × sanderae, and 42 or 44 chromosomes from N. debneyi. Four or six chromosomes of one ancestral genome of N. debneyi were eliminated during culture of electrofusion-treated protoplasts and plant regeneration. Both chloroplasts and mitochondria of the somatic hybrid plants were probably derived from N. debneyi. All somatic hybrid plants were fertile. In contrast to parental plants of N. × sanderae, the seed progeny of somatic hybrid plants were resistant to infection by Peronospora tabacina, a trait introgressed from the wild parent, N. debneyi.
Sexual incompatibility between N. × sanderae and N. debneyi was circumvented by somatic hybridization involving protoplast fusion. Asymmetrical nuclear hybridity was seen in the hybrids with loss of chromosomes, although importantly, somatic hybrids were fertile and stable. Expression of fungal resistance makes these somatic hybrids extremely valuable germplasm in future breeding programmes in ornamental tobacco.