12 January - 20 June 2016

Engineering higher phenylpropanoid levels in tomato

4 November 2015

Resveratrol and genistein are both phenylpropanoids; which have previously been linked to longevity and prevention of breast/prostate cancers respectively. They are naturally found in high levels in red grapes, tomatoes and soy beans. Phenylpropanoids are secondary metabolites which are synthesised from phenylalanine by a number of enzymes. Due to their potential health benefits an industrial scale method for the production of phenylpropanoids would be valuable. A team of researchers from John Innes Centre in Norwich have developed a method to produce these compounds which has the potential to be easily scaled up.

In a research paper, Zhang et al. utilised a protein called AtMYB12 which has been shown to regulate phenylpropanoid biosynthesis in Arabidopsis thaliana, a Eurasian plant commonly used in molecular biology studies. The AtMYB12 protein was introduced into a tomato, thus activating the genes which encode the key enzymes involved in both primary and secondary phenylpropanoid metabolism. The use of this protein resulted in a tomato with 10 times greater resveratrol levels and genistein levels of around 100 times larger than found in tofu or other soy products.

Dr Zhang believes that these compounds could be extracted directly from the tomato juice produced. This new method for phenylpropanoid production has the possibility to be expanded to other types of food, since unique compounds with potential health benefits can be found in all types of food. Perhaps one day, crops will grow not just to be eaten directly, but also as high value ingredient sources.

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