The tumour-inducing plasmids of
(Ti-plasmids) reveal several interesting properties. They are catabolic plasmids, which, instead of rendering
strains capable of catabolizing compounds found in Nature, force a plant to synthesize these catabolites (denoted ‘opines’). This situation is obtained by insertion of a segment of the Ti-plasmid (the T-DNA) into the plant nucleus, where T-DNA genes become expressed and intervene in the biosynthesis of these opines. Cells containing the T-DNA behave as neoplasms (crown gall cells). Southern blotting shows that the insertion process responsible for T-DNA transfer probably recognizes special sequences on the T-DNA since the length of the T-DNA segment observed in different, independently isolated tumour lines was found to be similar. For the nopaline Tiplasmids both left-hand and right-hand borders were found to be constant. For the octopine plasmid the left border was constant and at least two classes of right-hand borders were found. Upon redifferentiation of the transformed plant cells, the T-DNA was found to be conserved in all somatic cells examined. However, small deletions at the border fragments of the T-DNA have been observed. The exact arrangement and copy number of the T-DNA in a nucleus is still under study, but genomic cloning has already revealed that an interspersed tandem arrangement is dominant in nopaline tumours. Clones containing both the right border of one T-DNA and the left border of the neighbouring tandem T-DNA were isolated. In order to identify the different T-plasmid encoded functions an extensive use was made of transposon insertion mutagenesis. When an antibiotic resistance transposon was inserted into the non-essential regions of the T-DNA, a linked transfer to the plant DNA of the transposon together with the T-DNA was observed. This indicates that Ti-plasmids are possible vectors for genetic engineering in plants. A strategy is described for insertion of any cloned DNA segment into the T-DNA.