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.
Llorente et al. 2020 Synthetic conversion of leaf chloroplasts into carotenoid-rich plastids reveals mechanistic basis of natural chromoplast development. PNAS 117 (35) 21796-21803.
Source: Crop Biotech Update