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Rutgers scientists create high-protein corn with Third World potential

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. Rutgers geneticists have devised a new approach to create a more nutritious corn without employing the controversial biotechnology used in genetically modified foods. Instead of adding foreign DNA to the corn, the researchers increased the plant's ability to produce more of its own naturally occurring protein by adjusting the genetic signals that control the process. The result is a more nutritious and natural food that eliminates the need for dietary supplements or chemical additives.

Jinsheng Lai, research associate at Rutgers' Waksman Institute of Microbiology, and Joachim Messing, professor and director of the institute, presented their findings in the current issue of The Plant Journal (volume 30, number 4, May 2002). In the course of their work, the Waksman scientists employed technical expertise that few other academic laboratories possess.

Lai and Messing increased the level of the corn's amino acid methionine, a common building block of protein, but one that the body cannot manufacture by itself. "Since our own body cannot synthesize certain amino acids such as methionine, we need to take it in through food. If we don't," said Messing, "then we die."

In an overly protein-rich diet such as most Americans consume, this is not a problem. "However, for the poor kids in Bolivia and elsewhere, steak and chicken are rarely on the table," Messing continued. "Their dietary staple is corn and little else. With our discovery, there is now an opportunity for them to get the protein necessary to ensure their health."

Messing explained that the researchers enabled the corn to make more of its own methionine by first isolating the gene for methionine and then adjusting the signaling sequences that flank it. "It still makes the same protein as before, but we changed the dials left and right of it a little bit, turning them up to increase the amount of protein made," he said. Messing stressed t
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Contact: Joseph Blumberg
blumberg@ur.rutgers.edu
732-932-7084 x652
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
4-Jun-2002


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