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Technology Created to Remove Toxins from Edible Crop Plants

Flowering canola field (ARS)

(Agricultural Research Service, USDA)

Researchers in Denmark, Spain, and Germany developed a method for keeping natural plant toxins out of edible parts of food and animal feed crops. The team led by University of Copenhagen plant biologist Barbara Ann Halkier reports its findings in this week’s issue of the journal Nature (paid subscription required).

Halkier and colleagues studied glucosinolates, which can take healthy forms in vegetables like broccoli, but can turn toxic in oilseed rape, a cereal crop often known as canola in North America. Because of the toxic properties of glucosinolates in oilseed rape, this rich source of protein can be used in only limited amounts for cattle and poultry feed. As a result, many farmers in northern Europe use imported soy cake for animal feed.

“We managed to find two proteins that transport glucosinolates into the seeds of the thale cress plant, a close relative of the oilseed rape,” says Halkier. “When we subsequently produced thale cress without these two proteins, the remarkable result was that their seeds were completely free of glucosinolates and thus suitable for feed.”

The technology is called transport engineering, and the result of 16 years of basic research. The university says its technology transfer office is negotiating with Bayer CropScience AG in Monheim, Germany to collaborate with Copenhagen’s Dynamic Molecular Interactions group that conducted the research on the deployment of transport engineering to produce an oilseed rape plant with glucosinolate-free seeds.

Collaborators on the project included researchers from the Centre for Plant Biotechnology and Genomics at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in spain, and Julius-von-Sachs Institute, Molecular Plant Physiology and Biophysics at University of Würzburg in Germany.

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