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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Recombinant food

Gee, how much science can I cram in a food blog? Let me finish on an exciting piece of news - Japanese scientists last month published the successful production of bacterially expressed functional miraculin. Why is this interesting? On a couple of fronts:

  1. If we are to produce large quantities of any kind of recombinant protein cheaply, we need to do so in bacteria. This is how insulin is commercially prepared, for example. Now, why haven't we done this so far with miraculin? Because it is a glycoprotein.
  2. What is a glycoprotein? It's a molecule that is part protein, and part carbohydrate. How glycoproteins are made in most cells is that a core of protein is made, and then carbohydrates are added to the outside which can add or modify functions for the protein. Unfortunately, bacteria aren't very good at the carbohydrate addition steps, so glycoproteins aren't particularly well made with them. Recombinant miraculin has been cloned and produced in fungi and plants before (like tomatoes), but those are still not commercially viable. As it turns out -- the functional part of miraculin doesn't require the addition of the carbohydrate! The bacterially produced stuff is functional.
Okay, I know I am excited about the prospects.

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