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Discovery of new molecular tools for biosynthesis could lead to advances in use of pectin

Most people know pectin as a common household gelling agent in making jams and jellies, but its uses are vast. It has anticancer properties, for instance, and may have a role in important biological functions including plant growth and development and defense against disease.

Despite the importance of pectin as a major component in the primary walls of plants, scientists have known relatively little about how this family of complex polysaccharides is made. Especially perplexing has been how the synthesis of the three different classes of pectic polysaccharides is coordinated to produce the pectin matrix in cell walls.

Now, in what has been described as a "crucial breakthrough in pectin biosynthesis," a team of researchers at the University of Georgia has discovered a gene that encodes one of the proteins responsible for pectin synthesis. This is a powerful new molecular tool that could help researchers understand--and potentially manipulate--pectins.

The result, which arose from the use of biochemistry and bioinformatics to discover gene sequences, could be genetically altered pectins that might dramatically improve plant species' ability to fight disease and new pectins that could be specifically targeted to fight cancers in humans. (It has also been demonstrated that pectin lowers serum cholesterol levels.) While not the breakthrough that will allow immediate manipulation of total pectin biosynthesis, it is, one of the researchers involved said, "the first word of the Rosetta Stone that will show us the blueprint for pectin biosynthesis."

The project, led by Debra Mohnen of the UGA department of biochemistry and molecular biology and the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, was just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Other authors of the paper include Jason Sterling, Melani Atmodjo, Sarah Inwood, V.S. Kumar Kolli, Heather Quigley and Michael Hahn.

"Numerous studies show that pectins c
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Source:University of Georgia


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