The sieve element occlusion (SEO) gene family originally was delimited to genes encoding structural components of forisomes, which are specialized crystalloid phloem proteins found solely in the Fabaceae. More recently, SEO genes discovered in various non-Fabaceae plants were proposed to encode the common phloem proteins (P-proteins) that plug sieve plates after wounding. We carried out a comprehensive characterization of two tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) SEO genes (NtSEO). Reporter genes controlled by the NtSEO promoters were expressed specifically in immature sieve elements, and GFP-SEO fusion proteins formed parietal agglomerates in intact sieve elements as well as sieve plate plugs after wounding. NtSEO proteins with and without fluorescent protein tags formed agglomerates similar in structure to native P-protein bodies when transiently coexpressed in Nicotiana benthamiana, and the analysis of these protein complexes by electron microscopy revealed ultrastructural features resembling those of native P-proteins. NtSEO-RNA interference lines were essentially devoid of P-protein structures and lost photoassimilates more rapidly after injury than control plants, thus confirming the role of P-proteins in sieve tube sealing. We therefore provide direct evidence that SEO genes in tobacco encode P-protein subunits that affect translocation. We also found that peptides recently identified in fascicular phloem P-protein plugs from squash (Cucurbita maxima) represent cucurbit members of the SEO family. Our results therefore suggest a common evolutionary origin for P-proteins found in the sieve elements of all dicotyledonous plants and demonstrate the exceptional status of extrafascicular P-proteins in cucurbits
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