In a discovery that could benefit millions of people in the world, Rutgers
University scientists have found a way to enhance the nutritional value of
corn by inserting a bacterial gene that causes it to produce the key
Thomas Leustek, study co-author said that most harvested corn is used for
animal feed, but it lacks methionine. Methionine is one of the nine
essential amino acids that humans need for growth and tissue repair. The
sulfur in methionine protects cells from pollutants, slows cell aging, and
is essential for absorbing selenium and zinc. Every year, several billion
dollars is spent on synthetic methionine that is added to field corn seed, a
costly and energy-consuming process, according to Joachim Messing, senior
author of the study.
The Rutgers research team inserted an E. coli bacterial gene into the corn
plant's genome and grew several generations of corn. The E. coli enzyme -
3$B!l(B-phosphoadenosine-5$B!l(B-phosphosulfate reductase (EcPAPR) - spurred
methionine production in just the plant's leaves instead of the entire plant
to avoid the accumulation of toxic by-products, Leustek said. As a result,
methionine in corn kernels increased by 57 percent, the study says.
A chicken feeding trial at Rutgers showed that the genetically engineered
corn was nutritious for them. "To our surprise, one important outcome was
that corn plant growth was not affected," Messing said.