Genetically boosting the nutritional value of corn could benefit millions

Rutgers scientists have found an efficient way to enhance the nutritional value of corn by inserting a bacterial gene that causes it to produce a key nutrient called methionine, according to a new study published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The discovery could benefit millions of people in developing countries, such as in South America and Africa, who depend on corn as a staple. It could also significantly reduce worldwide animal feed costs.

Poultry feed is usually prepared as a corn-soybean mixture, and methionine is the sole essential sulfur-containing amino acid that’s missing. It is chemically synthesized and added separately because animals won’t grow without it. This increased the cost of major food supply.

The scientists inserted an Escherichia coli bacterial gene into the corn plant’s genome and grew several generations of corn. The E. coli enzyme – 3′-phosphoadenosine-5′-phosphosulfate reductase (EcPAPR) – spurred methionine production in just the plant’s leaves instead of the entire plant to avoid the accumulation of toxic byproducts. As a result, methionine in corn kernels increased by 57 percent without damage to plant growth.
Then the scientists conducted a chicken feeding trial and showed that the genetically engineered corn was nutritious for them.

The genetically modified maize has an increased nutritional value without apparent yield loss and also can significantly reduce the cost of feed supplementation.

Jose Planta el al., “Engineering sulfur storage in maize seed proteins without apparent yield loss,” PNAS (2017).


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