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2-Plants: Strawberry gene should create vitamin C-rich GE plants

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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Strawberries may be food of the future
SOURCE: CoolTech/Agence France Press, South Africa
DATE:   Jan 13, 2003

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Strawberries may be food of the future

Molecular biologists say they have identified a gene in ripe strawberries 
that could help create vitamin-drenched, transgenic food of the future.

The gene, called GalUR, encodes an enzyme in strawberry plants that helps 
to convert a protein called D-galacturonic acid to vitamin C, according to 
a study led by Victoriano Valpuesta, of Spain's University of Malaga, which 
is published in a specialist journal, Nature Biotechology.

They tested the same gene in a weed called thale cress (Arabidopsis 
thaliana), which is the best-researched plant in the world because its 
genetic code has been fully unravelled.

Genes that had been tweaked to overexpress the enzyme churned out two or 
three times the amount of ascorbic acid, as vitamin C is called.

Other plants that use these genes could be engineered so that they too have 
high vitamin levels, the study suggests.

"Vitamin C is the single most important specialty chemical manufactured in 
the world," it says.

"The identification of the GalUR gene provides a new tool whose commercial 
application may have a substantial impact on the production of this highly 
valuable compound."

Transgenic food is made from plants that have had certain genes manipulated 
or inserted from other species.

The first generation of this technology is widely used in the United States 
but is widely opposed in Europe.

It entails introducing genes that confer financial benefits for the 
producer, such as exuding proteins that kill pests or resist herbicides or 
prolong a fruit's shelf life.

The second generation, which is still in the experimental stage, entails 
crops, such as bananas or rice, with genes that boost nutrition.

Genetically-modified crops are contested by ecologists, who say their long-
term impact on health and the environment could be perilous.

In 2000, a team of scientists were able to boost vitamin C content in 
lettuce by inserting a gene for the enzyme oxidase.

The problem, though, was that the gene came from a rat.

"Plants genetically modified with rat genes might not be appealing to 
consumers," Valpuesta notes with masterly understatement, implying that a 
strawberry gene might however win the public's confidence.


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