RICHLAND, Wash. - Some crops are grown for food while others are grown to produce consumer products, but a special group of potato plants now is doing both at once. Researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed a specialized capability to control genes that are transplanted into a plant. Researchers are able to direct desirable traits into a specific portion of a plant, allowing dual-use of one crop.
The experimental potatoes have sprouted valuable enzymes in the vines, while the tubers remain just plain old spuds to be baked, boiled or turned into french fries. These transgenic plants have been modified to produce cellulase enzymes in the foliage. The cellulase-producing genes were isolated from bacterial and fungal organisms.
Cellulase is an enzyme used to break down plant material and is used in a wide variety of applications, from food processing to ethanol production. "The process can be adapted to create additional enzymes such as lipases and proteases used in pharmaceuticals, specialty chemical and industrial products," said Brian Hooker, a biochemical engineer at Pacific Northwest.
Currently, industrial enzymes are grown in fermenters, which is a labor- and time-intensive process that is relatively costly. Researchers say using plants as "bioreactors" to grow the enzymes is much easier and cheaper.