Pelargonium is one of the most popular garden plants in the world. Moreover, it has a considerable economic importance in the ornamental plant market. Conventional cross-breeding strategies have generated a range of cultivars with excellent traits. However, gene transfer via Agrobacterium tumefaciens could be a helpful tool to further improve Pelargonium by enabling the introduction of new genes/traits. We report a simple and reliable protocol for the genetic transformation of Pelargonium spp. and the production of engineered long-life and male sterile Pelargonium zonale plants, using the pSAG12::ipt and PsEND1::barnase chimaeric genes respectively.
The pSAG12::ipt transgenic plants showed delayed leaf senescence, increased branching and reduced internodal length, as compared to control plants. Leaves and flowers of the pSAG12::ipt plants were reduced in size and displayed a more intense coloration. In the transgenic lines carrying the PsEND1::barnase construct no pollen grains were observed in the modified anther structures, which developed instead of normal anthers. The locules of sterile anthers collapsed 3–4 days prior to floral anthesis and, in most cases, the undeveloped anther tissues underwent necrosis.
The chimaeric construct pSAG12::ipt can be useful in Pelargonium spp. to delay the senescence process and to modify plant architecture. In addition, the use of engineered male sterile plants would be especially useful to produce environmentally friendly transgenic plants carrying new traits by preventing gene flow between the genetically modified ornamentals and related plant species. These characteristics could be of interest, from a commercial point of view, both for pelargonium producers and consumers.