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Gene 'knockout' floors tobacco carcinogen
Date:3/18/2008

In large-scale field trials, scientists from North Carolina State University have shown that silencing a specific gene in burley tobacco plants significantly reduces harmful carcinogens in cured tobacco leaves.

The finding could lead to tobacco products especially smokeless products with reduced amounts of cancer-causing agents.

NC State's Dr. Ralph Dewey, professor of crop science, and Dr. Ramsey Lewis, assistant professor of crop science, teamed with colleagues from the University of Kentucky to knock out a gene known to turn nicotine into nornicotine. Nornicotine is a precursor to the carcinogen N-nitrosonornicotine (NNN). Varying percentages of nicotine are turned into nornicotine while the plant ages; nornicotine converts to NNN as the tobacco is cured, processed and stored.

The field tests in Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina compared cured burley tobacco plants with the troublesome gene silenced and "control" plant lines with normal levels of gene expression. The researchers found a six-fold decrease in carcinogenic NNN in the genetically modified tobacco plants, as well as a 50 percent overall reduction in the class of harmful compounds called TSNAs, or tobacco-specific nitrosamines. TSNAs are reported to be among the most important tobacco-related compounds implicated in various cancers in laboratory experiments, Lewis said.

The research results were published online in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Lewis and Dewey stress that the best way for people to avoid the risks associated with tobacco use is to avoid using tobacco products. But their findings show that targeted gene silencing can work as well in the field as it does on the lab bench.

"Creating a tobacco plant with fewer or no harmful compounds may also help with tobacco plants that are being used to create pharmaceuticals or other high-value products," Dewey said.

To get initial lines of plants with the troublesome gene silen
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Contact: Dr. Ralph Dewey
ralph_dewey@ncsu.edu
919-515-2705
North Carolina State University
Source:Eurekalert

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