The use of winter cover crops is beneficial to agriculture. We have tried to design a cover crop that self-destructs in response to an environmental cue, thereby eliminating the use of herbicides and tillage to remove the cover crop in late spring. Here, this novel concept is tested in a model system. The onset of summer brings with it elevated temperatures. Using this as the environmental cue, a self-destruction cassette was designed and tested in tobacco. A heat-shock–responsive promoter was used to direct expression of the ribonuclease Barnase. Because Barnase is extremely toxic to cells, it was necessary to coexpress its inhibitor, Barstar, whose expression was under the control of the CaMV 35S promoter. The wild-type and two mutated Barnase genes, one missense and one translation attenuated, were tested. Our results indicated that the translation-attenuated version of the Barnase gene was most effective in causing heat-shock–regulated plant death. Analysis of the T2 progeny of a transgenic plant carrying this Barnase mutant showed that the Barnase gene expression was sixfold higher in heat-shock–treated plants compared with untreated plants. This level of Barnase gene expression was sufficient to kill transgenic plants.
Nomenclature: Arabidopsis, Arabidopsis thaliana; Tobacco, Nicotiana tabacum (L.) cv. Petit Havana SR1.