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Engineering Nutrient-Rich Plants Made For Feasible By New Findings

Research conducted to better understand the mechanisms of micronutrient uptake, distribution, and regulation by Professor Mary Lou Guerinot has led to findings// that make engineering nutrient-rich plants, better able to grow in soils considered marginal and also increasing crop biomass in soils now in cultivation, more feasible. The findings have been presented by Guerinot at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) in the Hynes Convention Center, Boston.

Most people rely on plants for their dietary source of micronutrients. Therefore, plants engineered to be better sources of essential elements would offer humans improved nutrition. For example, over three billion people worldwide suffer from Iron and/or Zinc deficiencies. Food consumption studies suggest that doubling the Iron in rice can increase the Iron intake of the poor by 50 percent. Rice is a staple food in many of the countries with widespread Iron deficiencies in human diets.

Guerinot's lab has previously identified the essential Iron transporter responsible for Iron uptake from the soil. This Iron transporter is IRT1. In addition to transporting iron, IRT1 can also transport Manganese, Zinc, Cobalt and Cadmium. Thus, any attempts to increase Iron uptake via IRT1 must consider the transport of unwanted substrates such as Cadmium.

Industrial, mining, and agricultural activities, particularly the excessive use of phosphate fertilizers, have led to high levels of Cadmium contamination at many locations worldwide. Utilizing DNA shuffling and heterologous expression in yeast, Guerinot and her colleagues isolated alleles of IRT1 that no longer facilitate the accumulation of Cadmium yet retain the crucial ability to transport Iron. When the engineered IRT1 alleles are expressed in plants that no longer express a wild type copy of IRT1, the engineered allele allows these plants to take up iron and renders them resistant to Cadmium. Transgenic see
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