Tech Tuesday

Rethinking Nutrients in Corn, Soybeans

Two different research reports highlight interesting approaches plant breeders are taking to diet issues.

Could soybeans help you lose weight? They might if they're high in a specific protein that inhibits fat accumulation and reduces inflammation. The University of Illinois released information this week noting that soybeans rich in beta-conglycinins limit lipid accumulation in fat cells by cutting back on an enzyme called fatty acid synthase.

Researcher Elvira de Mejia, associate professor of food science and human nutrition, is doing the work on the synthase inhibitor and she says they've also identified specific digested proteins that do the job. Next step is to understand the mechanism behind it because the work could help identify a range of neutraceuticals to fight obesity.

The study was also the first to establish the anti-inflammatory properties of soy high in this type of protein. de Mejia explains, in a release talking about the study, that soy contains two types of protein - glycinins and beta-conglycinins. The most important factor influencing a soy plant's healthful effects is the proportion in which those two proteins occur. Plants higher in the beta-conglycinins are more likely to inhibit lipid accumulation and inflammation.

With marker-assisted breeding it will be possible to develop soybeans with the right composition that could also be high-yielding plants that contain this "slimming" trait. de Mejia already knew soybeans could have that slimming effect from her work with laboratory rats and soy diets. This work just confirms the mechanism, which is a step closer to creating the plants with the trait.

Of course it'll be awhile before any commercial products are available, but it's a promising area of food research. The study, published in a recent issue of Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.

Orange Corn to the Rescue? Purdue University researchers want to change the color of corn raised in different parts of the world. Turns out getting more vitamin A into a plant could create an orange corn that might be used to help stop blindness and malnutrition in children. The researchers that decreasing or increasing a newly discovered gene in corn could influence vitamin A content. This could have a significant impact on childhood blindness and mortality rates. The study found that in yellow, and particularly orange corn, a type that likely originated in the Caribbean and popular in some Asian and South American countries has higher levels of carotenoids. One of which is beta carotene that humans convert to vitamin A during digestion - that's why carrots are so good for you.

Researchers are using simple visual selection for darker orange color combined with more advanced molecular natural diversity screening techniques to create better lines of orange corn.

Interestingly, the work involved reducing the function of the crtR-B1 gene. When it's reduced, beta carotene builds up in the plant. If crtR-B1 is active it creates more zeaxanthin, which is a micronutrient that could protect against macular degeneration. In effect, beta carotene has more value in developing countries, while the zeaxanthin is more valuable in developed countries. The researchers, through this work, can "design" corn lines better suited to the key dietary issues for the region where the corn is raised and sold.

While it will take some time for this development, it offers enhanced nutritional value to corn in key markets for the future.

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