Genetically Modified Potatoes Could Produce Low Cost Fuel for Automobiles

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Description and Advantages

Genetically modified (GM) potatoes that can produce large amounts of fructose could one day produce ethanol to power automobiles. A group of French scientists led by Prof Rajbir Sangwan, Director of the Bio-technology lab at the University of Picardie Jules Verne, France have used gene fusion technology to produce GM potatoes that churns out 19 times more fructose than the normal ones. Annually millions of tonnes of fructose are produced through industrial processes that use starch from maize. The starch is converted into fructose in a chemical plant using bacterial enzymes.

What Prof Rajbir Sangwan and his team have done is inject the two genes coding enzymes that convert starch stored in potatoes into fructose in the plant itself. When the potato is heated and mashed, the fructose is released, in effect turning the potato into a mini chemical factory.

The team modified the potato by inserting the genes coded enzymes called 'alpha amylase' and 'glucose isomerase'. While the first enzyme breaks down starch to glucose, the second converts glucose to fructose. With the entire conversion mechanism firmly placed, the potato becomes a one-step pilot plant to directly produce fructose. To scale up the plant, all that is needed is to grow more GM potatoes.

Having successfully fused two genes, the French scientist's team is now trying the technique to fuse three in a bid to get still higher yields of fructose. The research team is also looking at the possibility of using gene fusion technology in fermentation and to make low cost ethanol to fuel automobiles.

The gene fusion technology could find beneficial applications in processing of agro foods, fruits and also in cutting down post-harvest losses, which are very high in countries as India.


Chemical Industry Digest,
Sept-Oct 2001