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UC Riverside biochemists develop technology to increase Vitamin C in plants

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- March 5, 2003 -- Biochemist Daniel R. Gallie at the University of California, Riverside and his research team of Zhong Chen, Todd Young, Jun Ling, and Su-Chih Chang report in the March 18, 2003, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that they have developed technology that increases the amount of vitamin C in plants, including grains, by increasing the amount of the enzyme that is responsible for recycling vitamin C. "The ability to increase the level of vitamin C in plant food will enhance their nutritive value," said Gallie, who is professor of biochemistry. The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of California Agricultural Experiment Station over the last 5 years.

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is essential to prevent diseases, such as scurvy, that affect the connective tissue. It also improves cardiovascular and immune cell function and is used to regenerate vitamin E. In contrast to most animals, humans cannot make vitamin C and it must, therefore, be obtained regularly from dietary sources. Vitamin C is present at high levels in some fruits such as citrus and some green leafy vegetables, but present in low levels in those crops most important to humans such as grains.

"Once used, vitamin C can be regenerated by the enzyme dehydroascorbate reductase or DHAR," explained Gallie. "Through this means, plants recycle the vitamin so that it can be used repeatedly. If vitamin C is not salvaged by DHAR, it is quickly lost."

In the PNAS paper, the authors reason that increasing the amount of DHAR in plants might improve their ability to recycle vitamin C and thereby increase its amount. To examine this, the researchers introduced the gene encoding DHAR from wheat into corn to increase the amount of DHAR by up to 100-fold.

"We found that the increase in DHAR elevated the amount of vitamin C in grain and leaves of corn, showing that th
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Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
iqbal@citrus.ucr.edu
909-787-2645
University of California - Riverside
5-Mar-2003


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