Boosting Phytochemicals in Crops

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WASHINGTON—The possibility of increasing healthful pterostilbene in crops, such as grapes and berries, may be more likely than before due to a new biotechnological approach that enables crop species to produce, or increase production, of the phytochemical compound pterostilbene.

There are two stilbenes—resveratrol and pterostilbene—which may possess similar purported beneficial health properties. Researchers at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) showed that a previously characterized and patented gene (SbOMT3), which they had isolated from the sorghum plant, is capable of converting resveratrol to pterostilbene. They then built on that conversion activity by co-expressing SbOMT3 with a stilbene-synthase gene (AhSTS3) that had been isolated from the peanut plant. The approach was then tested in transgenic plants of two different species that do not naturally produce pterostilbene

For the proof-of-concept study, both genes were successfully incorporated into the chromosomes of two different model host plants, Arabidopsis and tobacco. The two-gene strategy generated transgenic plants that were able to produce pterostilbene, the authors reported.

It is unknown whether most phytochemicals are well absorbed in the body. But based on animal-model studies conducted by other scientists, pterostilbene has significantly higher bioavailability than the parent compound resveratrol.

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