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Overexpression of S-Adenosylmethionine Synthetase Gene from Pyropia tenera Enhances Tolerance to Abiotic Stress
Plant Breeding and Biotechnology 2017;5:304-313
Published online December 1, 2017
© 2017 Korean Society of Breeding Science.

Hyun-Ju Hwang, Jin-Woo Han, Hyun Dae Hong, and Jong Won Han*

Department of Genetic Resources Research, National Marine Biodiversity Institute of Korea, Seocheon 33662, Korea
Correspondence to: Jong Won Han,, Tel: +82-41-950-0760, Fax: +82-41-950-0765
Received November 1, 2017; Revised November 9, 2017; Accepted November 10, 2017.
This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Pyropia tenera is an intertidal red alga of commercial significance owing to its popularity as a health-promoting seafood product. This alga grows in marine environments and is frequently exposed to high salinity and osmotic stress, which impact its growth. Therefore, the enhancement of stress tolerance in P. tenera is critical. In the present work, we aimed to elucidate the mechanisms underlying abiotic stress tolerance in this species; specifically, we identified the P. tenera S-adenosylmethionine synthetase-encoding gene (PtSAMS) and characterized its biological function. This gene, which is known to play a role in stress tolerance in other plants, was cloned and overexpressed in Escherichia coli under high-salinity conditions. The PtSAMS gene was found to encode a 385-amino-acid protein with a molecular weight of 41.8 kDa. In silico sequence alignment and phylogenetic analysis of the PtSAMS amino acid sequence showed that the encoded protein comprises three conserved domains and two motifs that are highly conserved in other plants. Growth assay results indicated that PtSAMS-overexpressing E. coli cells exhibit enhanced tolerance to salt stress. The results suggest that PtSAMS expression is induced by a combination of ion toxicity and osmotic stress resulting from exposure to high salinity in marine environments, and that this gene is expressed at housekeeping levels owing to growth in such conditions. The findings suggest that PtSAMS could be used as a potentially valuable bioresource with utility in the genetic engineering of salt stress-tolerant crop plants.

Keywords : S-adenosylmethionine synthetase (SAMS), Pyropia tenera, Abiotic stress, Salinity, Recombinant protein, Tolerance

Algae have been consumed as edible seaweed in Asia for thousands of years. Pyropia (Rhodophyta) have been cultivated since the 17th century in Korea, Japan, and China and represent commercially valuable seafood. Pyropia, which is highly popular owing to its delicious taste, contains high levels of protein and is rich in essential amino acids and vitamins (Blouin et al. 2011). The market for Pyropia is worth about 7 trillion, and its exports have experienced recent growth. It expected that the Pyropia market size would continue to increase as a result of its recognition as a health-beneficial food product.

The environment in which seaweed is cultivated is exposed to harsh marine conditions. Aquaculture productivity is affected by temperature, rainfall, laver disease, and other factors. Therefore, the identification of rapidly growing or disease-resistant seaweed species is critical.

Salinity is one of the major abiotic factors that limit crop growth and productivity. Salt stress results in excessive ion toxicity, oxidative stress, and physiological drought, consequently causing disruption of cell organelles and their metabolism, eliciting nutrient imbalance in the plant, and reducing its osmotic potential (Tester and Bacic 2005). These effects lead to arrest of growth and development of the plant, thereby limits its survival.

S-Adenosylmethionine synthetase (SAMS) catalyzes the conversion of adenosine 5′-triphosphate (ATP) and methionine into S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) (Pajares and Markham 2011). SAM plays a central role in diverse biological processes, such as by serving as a methyl donor during transmethylation in plants, and acting as a common precursor in the biosynthesis of polyamines and ethylene (Kumar et al. 1997; Roeder et al. 2009). The SAMS-encoding gene has been cloned from various species such as bacteria, yeasts, humans, animals, and plants. In plants, SAMS has been reported to play a role in developmental process and the stress response (Pulla et al. 2009). In Arabidopsis thaliana, the SAMS gene plays a role in seed germination, as shown in a previous study of MTO3 mutants that showed delayed germination and high level concentration of methionine phenotype Knockdown of the SAMS gene resulted in delayed flowering time and dwarf phenotype in rice (Boerjan et al. 1994; Li et al. 2011). Expression of SAMS is induced under low temperature in Arabidopsis, rice, and maize (Cui et al. 2005; Amme et al. 2006; Yang et al. 2006; Uvackova et al. 2012). Pisum sativum SAMS1 is expressed during pea development (Gómez-Gómez and Carrasco 1998). Overexpression of the stress-inducible gene GsSAMS2 enhances salt tolerance in transgenic Medicago sativa (Hua et al. 2012). Suaeda salsa inhabits saline or alkaline soil such as coastal salt-flats. Recently, overexpression of S. salsa SAMS was shown to increase salt tolerance in transgenic tobacco (Qi et al. 2010). Although Porphyra yezoensis SAMS (PySAMS) has been cloned (Yi et al. 2009), its function is still unknown.

Here, we reported the cloning and characterization of the SAMS (PtSAMS) gene in Pyropia tenera. In order to elucidate the function of PtSAMS, we additionally examined the expression of PtSAMS in E. coli under stress conditions. Functional analysis in E. coli suggested that PtSAMS plays a role in the tolerance to stress.


Plant materials

The P. tenera strain used in this study was received from the Seaweed Research Center, National Research & Development Institute. P. tenera was cultured at 10°C in a growth chamber with bubbling under 50 μmol·m2s1 and a photoperiod of 12 hour light and 12 hour dark. The culture media used was Provasoli’s enrichment solution (PES); the media were changed every week (Kakinuma et al. 2016).

RNA extraction, reverse transcription, and isolation of PtSAMS gene

The PtSAMS sequence was obtained by performing a search of the NCBI (National Center of Biotechnology Information) database, based on the sequence of Porphyra yezoensis S-adenosylmethionine synthetase (SAMS) gene. Total RNA was extracted from P. tenera with Hybrid-R (GeneAll, Seoul, Korea) according to the manufacturer’s guide. The first-strand cDNA was synthesized using amfiRivert cDNA Synthesis Platinum Master Mix (GenDEPOT, Texas, US). The full-length PtSAMS gene was isolated through RT-PCR using the PtSAMS-F (5′-CACCATGGCAGCCATGAAG-3′) and PtSAMS-R (5′-ACGACGCTCTAGAGCTCAC-3′) primers based on the P. yezoenesis sequence (GenBank accession: FJ404748) (Table 1).

Cloning of PtSAMS gene into the pET28(b) expression vector and recombinant protein expression

PtSAMS was amplified by PCR using the PtSAMS-NdeI-F (5′-CCCCATATGGCAGCCATGAAGA-3′) and PtSAMS-XhoI-R (5′-TCACTCGAGGAGCTCAAGC-3′) primers with flanking restriction sites of NdeI and XhoI, respectively (Table 1). The PCR product was digested with NdeI and XhoI restriction endonucleases and cloned into pET28(b). The pET28(b)-PtSAMS plasmid was transformed into the E. coli strain BL21(DE3). The pET28(b) empty vector was used as a control in spot assay and liquid growth assay of stress treatment (Yadav et al. 2012).

Sequence analysis

PtSAMS and protein sequences of other SAMS of different species were searched in the NCBI database. Amino acid alignments were conducted using the ClustalW algorithm implemented in BioEdit (Thompson et al. 1994). The phylogenetic tree of the SAMS protein was constructed using the Geneious software 9.0.4. using a neighbor-joining (NJ) method with bootstrap set at 10,000 replicates.

Southern blot analysis

Genomic DNA was isolated from P. tenera using the DNeasy Plant Maxi-prep Kit (Qiagen, Hilden, Germany). Genomic DNA (5 μg) was digested with BamHI and KpnI, separated on 0.7% agarose gel, and transferred to Hybond-N+ membrane. The membrane was treated by UV crosslinking to fix the genomic DNA. Probe DNA was prepared by PCR for a specific region of PtSAMS. The gene-specific primers used were PtSAMS-303-F (5′-CCAGTCCCCTGAGATTGCTG-3′) and PtSAMS-955-R (5′-CTGAAATCGGCTCGGCAATG-3′) (Table 1). Probe labeling with dioxigenin (DIG), hybridization, and detection were carried out using the DIG High Prime DNA Labeling and Detection Starter Kit I (Roche, Basel, Switzerland) according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Quantitative RT-PCR analysis

cDNA from P. tenera was used as a template for qRT-PCR using PtSAMS gene-specific primers PtSAMS-303-F and PtSAMS-955-R. Real time qPCR was performed using the Takara PCR system with a SYBER GREEN KIT (Takara, Shiga, Japan). PCR conditions were as follows: 94°C for 2 minutes, 40 cycles at 94°C for 30 seconds, 62°C for 30 seconds, 72°C for 30 seconds, and a final extension at 72°C for 10 minutes. The experiments were repeated three times independently. The PtGAPDH gene was used as an internal control under the same conditions. Primer sequences were as follows: PyGAPDH-2771-F (5′-CGCC GAGTACATTGTCGAGT-3′) and PyGAPDH-3002-R (5′-GTACTTCTCGTGCAGCACCT-3′) (Lee et al. 2015) (Table 1).

Spot culture assay for analysis of the effects of stress treatment

pET28(b)-PtSAMS/BL21(DE3) cells were grown in LB medium to OD600 = 0.6, and 0.1 mM IPTG was added (Yadav et al. 2012). The inducted cells were grown for 5 hours at 37°C. The cultured cells were dil0uted to an OD600 of 0.6, and then to 103, 104, and 105. Ten micro liters from each dilution was spotted on to an LB-only plate, or an LB plate supplemented with 400 mM NaCl and 400 mM KCl. The experiments were repeated three times independently.

Liquid culture assay under stress treatment

Growth rate analysis was tested in LB liquid medium or in LB medium supplemented with NaCl and KCl. Then, 400 μL of pET28(b)-PtSMAS recombinant or vector alone in E. coli BL21 cells were inoculated into 10 mL of LB liquid medium for overnight culture. The next day, the cultured cells were diluted to an OD600 of 0.6 and 0.1 mM IPTG was added for induction. Cells were grown for 5 hours at 37°C and then were diluted to OD600 of 0.6. Next, 500 μL of cells were inoculated into 50 mL of LB medium containing 400 mM NaCl, and 400 mM KCl, or LB medium only, and cultured at 37°C. Cells were harvested every 1 hour, until 12 hours, and OD600 values were measured.


Isolation and characterization of PtSAMS

To isolate the PtSAMS, we designed primer sets based on the P. yezoensis sequence (Accession number: FJ404748) in the NCBI GenBank sequence database (Table 1). The PtSAMS gene was cloned from the cDNA library by PCR and sequenced (data not shown). Sequence analysis showed that the complete open reading frame of PtSAMS is 1,155 bp in length, and is composed of one exon. The predicted PtSAMS protein comprises 385 amino acid residues with a calculated molecular weight of 41.8 kDa and isoelectric point (PI) of 5.60.

Sequence analysis and phylogenetic analysis of PtSAMS

To further characterize the PtSAMS protein, we performed a conserved domain (CD) analysis through the GenomeNet Database Resources ( The predicted PtSAMS protein consisted of three S-adenosylmethionine synthetase N-terminal, central, and C-terminal domains. Furthermore, the predicted PtSAMS sequence contained two substrate-binding sites, as well as a site for ATP binding in the central domain and for Met binding in the C-terminal domain (Fig. 1a). The BioEdit software was used for comparison of the amino acid sequence of PtSAMS with SAMS from other representative Rhodophyta, Phaeophyta, and Chlorophyta (Fig. 1a). The results showed that PtSAMS shared higher homology with SAMS from plant species such as Galdieria sulphuraria (76%), Ectocarpus siliculosus (70%), Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (69%), and A. thaliana (66%). To investigate the evolutionary relationship of PtSAMS protein among SAMS proteins of other species, a phylogenetic tree was constructed using Geneious 9.0.4 software on the basis of the multiple amino acid sequences (Fig. 1b). GenBank accession numbers of the protein sequences are shown in Table 2. Phylogenetic tree analysis revealed that the PtSAMS of Bangiophyceae was grouped with red algae, showing the highest degree of clustering with Rhodophyta, Galdieria sulphuraria, and then with SAMS of diatoms and Phaeophyta, followed by Chlorophyta. Table 3 shows pairwise comparison of the amino acid sequences between PtSMAS and other species. The SAMS sequence was found to be highly conserved among all the different species.

Southern blot and expression analysis of PtSAMS at different phases of the life cycle

To determine the copy number of SAMS in the P. tenera genome, genomic DNA of P. tenera was digested with restriction endonucleases BamHI and KpnI; then, Southern blot analysis was performed. After transferring to a membrane, the separated genomic DNA was hybridized to DIG-labeled PtSAMS gene-specific probe. Southern blot analysis result clearly showed that the PtSAMS gene was present as a single copy in P. tenera (Fig. 2). To examine the expression levels of PtSAMS transcripts at different life cycles, qPCR analysis was performed (Fig. 3). Total RNA was isolated from the conchocelis and thallus of P. tenera. The relative mRNA expression level in the thallus was higher than that in conchocelis by approximately three folds.

Expression analysis of recombinant PtSAMS protein in E. coli by SDS-PAGE

The complete ORF of the PtSAMS gene was cloned into a pET28(b) vector and expressed in the E. coli strain BL21(DE3). The empty pET28(b) vector was used as a control in this experiment. Expression of the recombinant PtSAMS protein was induced by adding 0.1 mM IPTG after 1 hour; this reached a maximum at 7 hours (Fig. 4a). To confirm the production of His tag-fused PtSAMS, western blot analysis was carried out using anti-His (Fig. 4b). The theoretical molecular weight of the recombinant PtSAMS was about 44.0 kDa.

Growth of PtSAMS-expressing E. coli under abiotic stress

To examine the effect of the overexpression of the PtSAMS protein in E. coli under various abiotic stresses, the recombinant cells were spotted on LB medium supplemented with NaCl and KCl (Fig. 5). The pET28(b)-PtSAMS and pET28(b) cells showed similar growth on LB medium in overnight grown culture (Fig. 5a). The pET28(b)-PtSAMS recombinant cells showed increased number of colonies in NaCl and KCl treatment compared with that in control cells (Fig. 5b and 5c). In addition, the growth rate of recombinant cells was analyzed in LB liquid medium. pET28(b)-PtSAMS recombinant and pET28(b) empty vector control BL21(DE3) cells were inoculated into fresh LB liquid medium and medium supplemented with NaCl and KCl. In LB liquid medium, pET28(b)-PtSAMS recombinant cell and cells harboring the pET28(b) vector alone showed similar growth at various times. In the NaCl- and KCl-treatment treatment, pET28(b)-PtSAMS recombinant cells showed better growth compared with cells harboring the vector alone 6 hours after inoculation (Fig. 6). Therefore, the spot and liquid culture assay indicated a similar pattern between the groups in terms of the abiotic stress response.


Pyropia grows in high intertidal zones where this plant experiences environmental conditions such as desiccation, salinity fluctuations, intense radiation, and high temperatures; additionally, Pyropia is regularly submerged in seawater and exposed to air during high and low tides (Xu et al. 2017). This plant has developed mechanisms to resist salt stress and survive under severe conditions. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying the salt stress tolerance in Rhodophyta are not fully understood. In this study, we attempted to isolate the salt stress gene in seaweed by cloning the S-Adenosyl-l-methionine synthetase (SAMS) gene from P. tenera; this gene was referred to as PtSAMS. S-Adenosyl-L-methionine synthase synthesizes S-adenosyl-L-methionine (AdoMet) from L-methionine and ATP in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes (Boerjan et al. 1994). In silico sequence alignment and phylogenetic analysis of amino acid sequence showed that PtSAMS comprises three conserved domains: the N-terminal domain, central domain, and C-terminal domain (Fig. 1a). Furthermore, PtSAMS contains two motifs, Met-binding and ATP-binding sites, that are highly conserved in other plants. In the phylogenetic tree based on amino acid sequences of different SAMS proteins, PtSAMS was clustered with the SAMS from G. sulphuraria, Rhodophyta (Fig. 1b). Taken together, these results suggest that PtSAMS from P. tenera is a member of the red algae SAMS family. Further, we identified the presence of a single copy of the SAMS gene in the Pyropia genome by DNA gel blot analysis (Fig. 2). To examine PtSAMS expression at various stages of the life cycle, RT-qPCR amplification of DNA from the conchocelis and thallus of P. tenera was performed (Fig. 3). The relative mRNA expression level of PtSAMS in the thallus was higher than in the conchocelis. However, the expression level did not differ under exposure to abiotic stresses in the thallus (data not shown). As Pyropia inhabits sea water, this organism is exposed to environmental stresses such as high salt levels and drought, and is therefore adapted for growth and survival in the marine environment (Xu et al. 2017). It is therefore possible that the expression of the PtSAMS gene is maintained at the level of a housekeeping gene owing to the constant exposure to such growing conditions.

Salinity stress is an important environmental factor that limits plant growth and development. SAM acts as a universal methyl group donor in biological processes during numerous specific trimethylations of protein, lipids, polysaccharides, and nucleic acids (Li et al. 2011). SAM additionally serves as precursor for polyamine biosynthesis (Evans and Malmberg 1989). The plant hormone, ethylene, is synthesized from SAM and participates in various physiological processes such as the stress response (Wang et al. 2002; Wang et al. 2013). SAMS is expressed in various tissues in other plant species (Li et al. 2011): in rice, the SAMS gene regulates ethylene-mediated inhibition of root development and alteration of cell wall structures (Fukuda et al. 2007). SAMS expression is associated with the mechanism underlying tolerance of plants to abiotic stresses; it has been shown that transgenic SAMS-expressing plants show enhanced resistance to abiotic stresses. In tomato, SAMS were differentially expressed after application with salt stress (Espartero et al. 1994). Overexpression of SAMS in M. sativa resulted in enhanced tolerance to cold stress by accelerating polyamine oxidation (Guo et al. 2014). In addition, the levels of three SAMS transcripts were increased transiently following the application of various stresses in Catharanthus roseus; in particular, a high degree of accumulation of SAM2 transcripts was observed (Schroder et al. 1997). Taken together with the results of previous studies, the present findings suggest that the expression of the SAMS gene maybe induced by a combination of ion toxicity and osmotic stress during exposure to salt stress.

E. coli growth assay results showed that pET8(b)-PtSAMS recombinant E. coli cells showed better tolerance to salt stress than cells harboring the control vector (Fig. 5). Similar to our results, previous studies have reported that the expression of stress-induced genes enhances tolerance to various stresses in other plants. Overexpression of Lycoris radiata SAMS recombinant protein was induced effectively under high salinity (NaCl and KCl) compared with that in control samples (Li et al. 2013; Cui et al. 2005). Ma et al. (2003) found that the expression of the SAMS gene from Suaeda salsa is induced under NaCl stress (Ma et al. 2003). Recently, it has been reported that the AvSAMS gene confers aluminum stress tolerance and facilitates epigenetic gene regulation (Ezaki et al. 2016). SAMS is therefore known to play roles in various plant defense systems. The present results indicate that PtSAMS maybe plays an important role in salt tolerance. This gene therefore suggests a potential bioresource for the genetic engineering of abiotic stress tolerance in plants.


This work was supported by a grant from the National Marine Biodiversity Institute Research Program (2017M 01300).

Fig. 1. Amino acid sequence alignment of PtSAMS homologs and phylogenetic tree of SAMS from various species. (a) Comparison of amino acid sequences of Pyropia tenera SAMS with the SAMS of other species: Galdieria sulphuraria (XP_005703068.1), Ectocarpus siliculosus (CBJ30117.1), Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (XP_001696661.1), and Arabidopsis thaliana (NP_171751.1); identical residues are shaded black, and similar residues are shaded gray. The domains are indicated by underlining. Met-binding motifs are indicated by boxes. Dotted boxes indicate ATP-binding sites. (b) Phylogenetic tree analysis using Geneious software using Jukes Cantor, Neighbor Joining tree building method with a 10,000 bootstrap repeat value.
Fig. 2. Southern blot analysis of P. tenera genomic DNA: 5 μg of genomic DNA per lane was digested with restriction enzymes and separated by electrophoresis in a 0.7% agarose gel. The DNA was transferred to a nylon membrane and probed with a DIG-labeled PtSAMS cDNA fragment. Molecular size markers are indicated on the left.
Fig. 3. Expression pattern analysis of PtSAMS at different life cycle stages in P. tenera: Total RNA was isolated from conchocelis and thallus of P. tenera at various life stages. The mRNA expression level of the conchocelis stage was set to 1. PtGAPDH was used as normalization control. The results are presented as average values with SD using each three times.
Fig. 4. SDS-PAGE and western blot analysis of PtSAMS recombinant protein in E. coli BL21(DE3). (a) SDS-PAGE analysis. M: marker, Lane 1: uninduced protein, Lane 2–4: induced protein by 0.1 mM IPTG for 1, 3, 5 (hour), respectively. (b) Analysis of expression of recombinant PtSAMS protein in E. coli BL21(DE3) cells; western blotting analysis of the PtSAMS recombinant proteins with anti-His tag antibodies. Arrows indicate the His-tagged PtSAMS recombinant protein.
Fig. 5. Spot assay of pET28(b) and pET28(b)-PtSAMS recombinant protein in E. coli cells with NaCl and KCl treatment; 10 μL from 103 to 105 dilution series were spotted on (a) control (LB-only) plate, or (b) LB plate supplemented with 400 mM NaCl, and (c) 400 mM KCl.
Fig. 6. Growth analysis of pET28(b) and pET28(b)-PtSAMS recombinant protein in E. coli cells on liquid medium with NaCl and KCl treatment; (a) LB medium, (b) 400 mM NaCl, and (c) 400 mM KCl. OD600 was recored at 1 hour interval up to 12 hours and mean values are represented in graph.

Gene specific primers used in the study.

NameSequence (5′-3′)Purpose
PtSAMS-XhoI-RTCACTCGAGGAGCTCAAGCz)For protein expression
PtSAMS-303-FCCAGTCCCCTGAGATTGCTGProbe for southern blot analysis
PtSAMS-955-RCTGAAATCGGCTCGGCAATGProbe for southern blot analysis

z)Bold letters indicate restriction enzyme sites.

GenBank and NCBI reference sequence accession numbers of SAMS sequences.

SpeciesAmino acid sequence lengthNCBI reference sequence
RhodophytaPyropia yezoensis384ACJ98094.1
Galdieria sulphuraria393XP_005703068.1
PhaeophytaEctocarpus siliculosus397CBJ30117.1
Undaria pinnatifida397AEK80411.1
ChlorophytaOstreococcus tauri386XP_003083240.1
Chlamydomonas reinhardtii390XP_001696661.1
Arabidopsis thaliana393NP_171751.1
Oryza sativa396AAT94053.1
DiatomsThalassiosira pseudonana450XP_002288884.1
Fistulifera solaris384GAX17078.1
BacterialEscherichia coli384AAA24164.1

Amino acid sequence identity matrix comparison of PtSMAS with SAMS of other species.


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