Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Revealing the Gene Network for Producing the Toxin in Green Potatoes may Help Improve Crops

Published: Monday, August 05, 2013
Last Updated: Monday, August 05, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Although rarely fatal in humans, eating green potatoes can often cause illness in farm animals.

In 1924, Science magazine reported on a fatal case of potato poisoning: James B. Matheney of Vandalia, Illinois, had gathered about one and a half bushels of tubers, which had turned green due to sunlight exposure.

Two days after eating the potatoes, most of his family – wife, two daughters and four sons – showed symptoms of poisoning; the only exceptions were James himself, who didn’t eat the potatoes, and a breast-fed baby boy. His wife, aged 45, died a week later, followed by their 16-year-old daughter. The other five members of the family recovered.

Although such fatalities are rare among human beings, farm animals often get sick or die after eating green potatoes. Symptoms include damage to the digestive system as well as loss of sensation, hallucinations and other neurological disturbances. Death can be caused by a disruption of the heart beat. The culprits are the toxic substances solanine and chaconine; their concentration rises sharply with exposure to light or during sprouting, and they protect the tubers from insects and disease.

Solanine and chaconine belong to the large family of glycoalkaloids, which includes thousands of toxins found in small amounts in other edible plants, including tomatoes and eggplant. These substances have been known for over 200 years, but only recently has Prof. Asaph Aharoni of the Plant Sciences Department begun to unravel how they are produced in plants. He and his team have mapped out the biochemical pathway responsible for manufacturing glycoalkaloids from cholesterol. Their findings will facilitate the breeding of toxin-free crops and the development of new crop varieties from wild strains that contain such large amounts of glycoalkaloids, they are currently considered inedible. On the other hand, causing plants to produce glycoalkaloids if they don’t do so naturally or increasing their glycoalkaloid content can help protect them against disease.

Two years ago, in research reported in The Plant Cell, the scientists identified the first gene in the chain of reactions that leads to the production of glycoalkaloids. In a new study published recently in Science, they have now managed to identify nine other genes in the chain by using the original gene as a marker and comparing gene expression patterns in different parts of tomatoes and potatoes. Disrupting the activity of one of these genes, they found, prevented the accumulation of glycoalkaloids in potato tubers and tomatoes. The team then revealed the function of each of the genes and outlined the entire pathway, consisting of ten stages, in which cholesterol molecules turn into glycoalkaloids.

An analysis of the findings produced an intriguing insight: Most of the genes involved are grouped on chromosome 7 of the potato and tomato genome. Such grouping apparently prevents the plants from passing on to their offspring an incomplete glycoalkaloid pathway, which can result in the manufacture of chemicals harmful to the plants.

The research was conducted by postdoctoral fellow Dr. Maxim Itkin, who worked with Dr. Uwe Heinig, Dr. Oren Tzfadia, Pablo D. Cardenas, Dr. Samuel Bocobza, Dr. Sergey Malitsky and Dr. Ilana Rogachev of Prof. Aharoni’s lab; as well as Dr. Tamar Unger of the Israel Structural Proteomics Center at the Weizmann Institute, and scientists from the National Chemical Laboratory in Pune, India, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Wageningen University, the Netherlands.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Wild Strawberry Genome Sequenced
Scientists have sequenced the full genome of a wild strawberry plant.
Monday, January 10, 2011
A Gene for Metastasis
Weizmann Institute Scientists reveal the actions of a key player in colorectal cancer.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Scientific News
High Throughput Mass Spectrometry-Based Screening Assay Trends
Dr John Comley provides an insight into HT MS-based screening with a focus on future user requirements and preferences.
How a Genetic Locus Protects Adult Blood-Forming Stem Cells
Mammalian imprinted Gtl2 protects adult hematopoietic stem cells by restricting metabolic activity in the cells' mitochondria.
Genetic Basis of Fatal Flu Side Effect Discovered
A group of people with fatal H1N1 flu died after their viral infections triggered a deadly hyperinflammatory disorder in susceptible individuals with gene mutations linked to the overactive immune response, according to a recent study.
New Tech Vastly Improves CRISPR/Cas9 Accuracy
A new CRISPR/Cas9 technology developed by scientists at UMass Medical School is precise enough to surgically edit DNA at nearly any genomic location, while avoiding potentially harmful off-target changes typically seen in standard CRISPR gene editing techniques.
The MaxSignal Colistin ELISA Test Kit from Bioo Scientific
Kit can help prevent the antibiotic apocalypse by keeping last resort drugs out of the food supply.
"Good" Mozzie Virus Might Hold Key to Fighting Human Disease
Australian scientists have discovered a new virus carried by one of the country’s most common pest mosquitoes.
Non-Disease Proteins Kill Brain Cells
Scientists at the forefront of cutting-edge research into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have shown that the mere presence of protein aggregates may be as important as their form and identity in inducing cell death in brain tissue.
Closing the Loop on an HIV Escape Mechanism
Research team finds that protein motions regulate virus infectivity.
New Class of RNA Tumor Suppressors Identified
Two short, “housekeeping” RNA molecules block cancer growth by binding to an important cancer-associated protein called KRAS. More than a quarter of all human cancers are missing these RNAs.
Potential Treatment for Life-Threatening Viral Infections Revealed
The findings point to new therapies for Dengue, West Nile and Ebola.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos