Rutgers University scientists say they have found an efficient way to enhance the nutritional value of corn. They inserted a bacterial gene into a corn genome that causes the corn plant to produce methionine, an essential amino acid for human and animal growth.
Synthetic methionine is typically added to livestock feed. “Methionine is added because animals won’t grow without it. [Methionine] is a vital nutrition, like a vitamin,” says Joachim Messing, the study’s senior author and a professor at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers, which is located in New Jersey.
Methionine also is a key amino acid for human health and growth. In the developed world, people get adequate levels of methionine from meat. But in the undeveloped world where people eat corn as a staple food, the lack of methionine in their diet can cause serious health and growth problems. They have to buy supplements or more expensive foods which contain methionine.
The discovery at Rutgers could significantly reduce animal feed costs and benefit millions of people in developing countries according to Thomas Leustek, the study’s co-author and a professor in the Department of Plant Biology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers.
How they did it
Rutgers scientists created the methionine-producing corn by inserting an E. coli bacterial gene into the corn plant’s genome. The E. coli enzyme spurred methionine production in the plant — methionine in the corn kernels increased by 57%. “To our surprise, the corn plant growth was not affected,” Leustek says.
Rutgers is commercializing the corn. It has already backcrossed the trait into inbred lines. Those lines are currently available to commercial corn breeders.