Purdue University scientists searched for a way to increase a plant’s production of phenylalanine, a compound important for plant survival and used by humans in flavors, fragrances, biofuels, insecticides, and pharmaceuticals. This led to a discovery last year of a previously unknown metabolic pathway that could be engineered to allow plants to produce more phenylalanine than they do on their own.
Plants use phenylalanine as building blocks for compounds to attract pollinators, for defense, reproduction, growth and development. While sufficient for those purposes, the amounts are small for human uses. The researchers discovered plants also can produce phenylalanine in cytoplasm and may be able to make larger quantities there. They grew petunias to maturity and then induced production of an enzyme that increased phenylalanine production in the cytosol, three-fold. This science, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, was informed by a project previously funded by NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. For more information read the Purdue University article.