An alternative way to increase plant productivity through the use of nitrogen fertilizers is to improve the efficiency of nitrogen utilization via genetic engineering. The effects of overexpression of pine glutamine synthetase (GS) gene and nitrogen availability on growth and leaf pigment levels of two Betula
species were studied. Untransformed and transgenic plants of downy birch (B. pubescens
) and silver birch (B. pendula
) were grown under open-air conditions at three nitrogen regimes (0, 1, or 10 mM) for one growing season. The transfer of the GS1a gene led to a significant increase in the height of only two transgenic lines of nine B. pubescens
, but three of five B. pendula
transgenic lines were higher than the controls. In general, nitrogen supply reduced the positive effect of the GS gene on the growth of transgenic birch plants. No differences in leaf pigment levels between control and transgenic plants were found. Nitrogen fertilization increased leaf chlorophyll content in untransformed plants but its effect on most of the transgenic lines was insignificant. The results suggest that birch plants carrying the GS gene use nitrogen more efficiently, especially when growing in nitrogen deficient soil. Transgenic lines were less responsive to nitrogen supply in comparison to wild-type plants.
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