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Crop Biotech Update

New Biofortification Method Transforms Leaves into Nutrient Stores

August 19, 2020
Plant leaf in which chromoplast formation has been induced in the lower right part, which is reflected with the development of a golden-yellow color Photo Source: Luca Morelli. CRAG

A study conducted at the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) led by Manuel Rodriguez-Concepción proposes the controlled transformation of chloroplasts into chromoplasts. This patented technology opens new perspectives for the nutritional improvement of crops such as biofortification and for the sustainable production of carotenoids for the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and food industries.

Carotenoids are natural pigments present in plants that protect leaves from excess light and provide yellow to red colors to flowers and fruits. Well-known examples are beta-carotene from carrots and lycopene from tomatoes. Humans and animals need these nutrients as a source of vitamin A and antioxidants through the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and greens. The highest concentration of these compounds occurs in chromoplasts, which are formed from chloroplasts in flowers and fruits. This transformation is responsible for the color change during fruit and vegetable ripening, which go from green (when they only have chloroplasts) to red (when chloroplasts transform into chromoplasts). However, chloroplasts in leaves generally do not transform into chromoplasts.

While the two phases of this process occur naturally in flowers and fruits, the CRAG research shows that they can also be induced in leaves by stimulating the production of phytoene, the compound from which the different types of carotenoids are formed. Phytoene production causes a synthetic transformation, that is, an unnatural transformation of chloroplasts into chromoplasts. This research also extends the potential of increasing the nutritional value of leaves and other green parts of plants, which are especially reluctant to biofortification with carotenoids.

For more details, read the article in CRAG News.

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