Rutgers University scientists discover new way to enhance corn's nutritional value


Scientists at the Rutgers University-New Brunswick have discovered an E coli bacterial gene, which, when inserted into the corn plant’s genome, enhances the nutritional value of the commodity crop.

The discovery is also expected to minimise food production costs and animal feed by increasing nutrient content in corn products.

According to the study conducted by the scientists, inserting an E coli bacterial gene results in the production of the key nutrient called methionine.

Methionine is one of the nine essential amino acids that humans need for growth, tissue repair, improvement of skin and hair tone, as well as the flexibility and strengthening of nails, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Generally found in meat, the nutrient contains sulphur, which protects cells from pollutants, slows cell ageing, and helps in absorbing selenium and zinc.

Department of Plant Biology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences professor and study co-author Thomas Leustek said: “We improved the nutritional value of corn, the largest commodity crop grown on Earth.

“Most corn is used for animal feed, but it lacks methionine - a key amino acid - and we found an effective way to add it.”

"Rutgers scientists explained that the new discovery could help people living in South America and Africa who depend on corn as a staple."

Rutgers scientists explained that the new discovery could help people living in South America and Africa who depend on corn as a staple.

The new discovery could also significantly reduce worldwide animal feed costs. Synthetic methionine is currently added to field corn seed each year and is worth several billion dollars.

Messing further added: “It is a costly, energy-consuming process. Methionine is added because animals won’t grow without it.

"In many developing countries where corn is a staple, methionine is also important for people, especially children. It’s vital nutrition, like a vitamin.”


Image: A field of corn, the world's largest commodity crop. Photo: courtesy of Nasa.