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Optimising nutritional quality of crops



Cell factory area


EU Contribution

2 066 223 Euro


36 months


Research project

Starting date


amino acid
transgenic plants
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The quantities of two major essential amino acids - lysine and methionine - found in crops determines the nutritional quality of a crop either as food or as raw material for feed. This project aims to improve the composition of free and protein-bound amino acids in the two major European crops of maize and potato, and the results obtained can be easily transferable to other crops. The results of this project will have a positive influence on breeding strategies targeted to improve nutritional quality, so renowned European academic and commercial research laboratories have formed a consortium to synergistically combine their research activities and devise new tools and strategies. Special consideration is being given to safety aspects and consumer acceptance.

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This R&D project has the dual goals of advancing basic knowledge and developing new commercial products. It combines innovative research with plant breeding, using the plant metabolism of major European crops as biological factories for improving their inherent nutritional quality. Particular attention is directed at satisfying consumer expectations and gaining acceptance of the product by providing high-quality, safe food and its derivatives.

The project objectives are:

  • Production of transgenic plants with enhanced amino acid synthesis.
  • Transfer of technology to produce crops with increased nutritional value.
  • Increased knowledge on pathways controlling plant amino acid biosynthesis.
  • Quality assessment of transgenic manipulation and its commercial development.

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The improvement of the nutritional quality of crops is a problem-orientated challenge which will be solved by exploiting the most recent developments in biotechnology to balance and enhance free and bound amino acid composition and content.

To achieve this aim, relevant target genes will be regulated either on their own or in combination. The relevant enzymes of the aspartate-derived amino acid pathway and the sulphate uptake and assimilation pathway will be developed to manipulate the flux towards end-product amino acids, and the catabolism will be regulated to enhance amino acid accumulation. Co-expression of storage proteins rich in methionine or lysine will also influence the equilibrium of amino acid synthesis. A further aspect is the delivery of the relevant metabolites from source to sink tissues and the transportable form of metabolites aimed at the manipulation of phloem-localised biosynthesis. In order to enhance the delivery of sulphur-containing metabolites to sink tissues the synthesis of the transportable forms of reduced-sulphur will also be targeted. Within this proposal, new technologies will be used to gain new information about the manipulated plants to provide information about the impact of the performed manipulation on gene expression, protein composition and metabolite levels. Genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic approaches will be used in the research to gain insight into the regulation of the pathways and to get access to new genes on an upper regulatory level. These results will be compiled to provide databases that will foster both classical breeding approaches as well as new approaches which apply genetic modifications. As well as aiding quality control, this information will help risk assessment in the development of new products for the market. Field performance evaluation and feeding studies will be included in the programme to support commercial development of the new output traits.

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Cloning of pathway-related and novel regulatory genes, their characterisation and the subsequent manipulation of the pathway. Transgenic plants with improved amino acid content (methionine, lysine, threonine) and nutritional quality will be investigated which will result in a database of molecular, biochemical and physiological data. The targeted manipulation of crop species (first potato and maize) will include quality and safety. New traits will be established and marketed.

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  Dr. Rainer Höfgen
MPI of molecular Plant Physiology
14424 Potsdam, Germany
Tel: +49 3315678205
Fax: +49 3315678201

  Dr. Malcolm Hawkesford
IACR Rothamsted
Biochemistry and Physiology Dept
AL5 2 JQ Harpenden, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 1582763133
Fax: +44 1582763010

Prof. Gad Galili
Weizmann Institute of Science
Dept of Plant Genetics
Box 26, 76100 Rehovot, Israel
Tel: +927 89343511
Fax: +972 89344181

Dr. Rachel Amir
Galilee Technological Centre
South Industrial Zone Kiryat-Shemona,
Box 90000, 121000 Roash-Pina, Israel
Tel: +972 66953505
Fax: +972 6644980

Prof. Geert Angenon
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Instituut voor Moleculaire Biologie
Paardenstraat 65
1640 St. Genesius Rode, Belgium
Tel: +32 23590244
Fax: +32 23584549

Dr. Holger Hesse
Freie Universität Berlin
Institut für Biologie, Angewandte Genetik
Albrecht-Thaer-Weg 6
14195 Berlin, Germany
Tel: +49 3083856797
Fax: +49 3083854345

Prof. Cris Kuhlemeier
Universität Bern
Institute of Plant Sciences
Altenbergrain 21
3013 Bern, Switzerland
Tel: +41 316318111
Fax: +41 313322059

Prof. Johann Schaller
Universität Bern
Dept. für Chemie und Biochemie
Freiestraße 3
3012 Bern, Switzerland
Tel: +41 316314352
Fax: +41 316314887

Dr. Ingrid Van der Meer
Plant Research International B.V.
Cell Cygernetics
Drowvendaalsteeg 1, PO Box 16
6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands
Tel: +31 317477142
Fax: +31 317418094

Dr. Pascual Perez
24, Avenue des Landais
63170 Aubiére, France
Tel: +33 473429777
Fax: +33 473427981

Dr. Zsofia Banfalvi
Agricultural Biotechnology Center
PO Box 411
2101 Gödollo, Hungary
Tel: +36 28430600
Fax: +36 28420096

Dr. Sandor Horvath
Pannon Agricultural University
Festetics Gy. u. 7. PO Box 71
8361 Keszthely, Hungary
Tel: +36 83311231
Fax: +36 83311231
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