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Natural variation in arabidopsis thaliana : resources for functional analysis (NATURAL)

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Member of the cabbage family for dietary supplements

Scientists have researched into the genetic basis of vitamin C and folate production in the model plant species Arabidopsis. The plant's close relatives, cabbage and broccoli, could therefore be used to supply these important nutrients.

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Arabidopsis is a member of the Brassica family. The key to its ecological success is its rapid life cycle of only six weeks. It is one of the model organisms for study in the plant kingdom and was the first to be genotyped. Another of its inherent advantages is that changes in its morphology which are a reflection of its genotype are easily observed. Partners of the European project NATURAL aimed to capitalise on the natural genetic variety and adaptation in this model plant. Specifically, the team at Wageningen University investigated the possibility of using Arabidopsis genetics to produce ascorbate (vitamin C) and folate, which are vital components of the human diet. Studies on ascorbate revealed the presence of three quantitative trait loci, one of which is closely linked to the gene that codes for an enzyme in the ascorbate pathway. Arabidopsis VTC2 encodes GDP-L-galactose phosphorylase, the last enzyme in the pathway to yield ascorbic acid. Investigation into folate, the nutrient involved in pregnancy in the prevention of neural tube defects centred on its availability. Glutamation of folate affects its bio-availability as it increases its cellular retention. Assays were performed using a newly developed liquid chromatography/mass spectroscopy method (LC-MS). Studies using the anti-folate compound methatrexate revealed that there were at least five QTLs involved. The ultimate aim is to pinpoint genes responsible for the anti-folate phenotype. The next step would then be to manipulate levels of folate in crops. Nutrigenomics, a rapidly expanding section of the biotechnology industry, has great potential to lead Europe into a key position in the biopharmaceutical and plant breeding arena. As such, the humble cabbage may be able to deliver measured and adequate doses of some of the basic nutrients.

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