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Plants use ‘unusual’ microbial-like pathway to make essential amino acid

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Posted January 10, 2014
Plants use 'unusual' microbial-like pathway to make essential amino acid
Natalia Dudareva 
Purdue University researchers have discovered a microbial-like pathway in plants that produces phenylalanine, an amino acid that is a vital component of proteins in all living organisms.

Plants mainly synthesize phenylalanine through a chain of chemical reactions that converts the organic acid arogenate to phenylalanine. But Purdue researchers demonstrated that plants also use an alternative pathway found in most microorganisms to make phenylalanine from phenylpyruvate.

“Now that we have genetic evidence that this pathway exists in plants, this opens up many exciting possibilities for metabolic engineering,” said Natalia Dudareva, distinguished professor of biochemistry. “This alternative pathway provides a whole new avenue to synthesize phenylalanine.”

Phenylalanine is an aromatic amino acid that serves as a building block for many compounds essential to plant structure, reproduction, defense and communication. Manipulating the alternative pathway to increase production of phenylalanine could help improve plants’ response to pests, Dudareva said.

Phenylalanine is also used to synthesize other compounds such as benzoic acid, a component of cancer-treating drugs.

Humans and animals cannot make phenylalanine, relying on plants to supply the phenylalanine necessary to build proteins. Increasing the phenylalanine levels in plants could yield more nutritional foods, said Heejin Yoo, a biochemistry graduate student and study co-author.

Read more at: Phys.org

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