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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Sep 21;101(38):13720-5. Epub 2004 Sep 13.

Folate biofortification in tomatoes by engineering the pteridine branch of folate synthesis.

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  • 1Department of Horticultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA.


Plants are the main source of folate in human diets, but many fruits, tubers, and seeds are poor in this vitamin, and folate deficiency is a worldwide problem. Plants synthesize folate from pteridine, p-aminobenzoate (PABA), and glutamate moieties. Pteridine synthesis capacity is known to drop in ripening tomato fruit; therefore, we countered this decline by fruit-specific overexpression of GTP cyclohydrolase I, the first enzyme of pteridine synthesis. We used a synthetic gene based on mammalian GTP cyclohydrolase I, because this enzyme is predicted to escape feedback control in planta. This engineering maneuver raised fruit pteridine content by 3- to 140-fold and fruit folate content by an average of 2-fold among 12 independent transformants, relative to vector-alone controls. Most of the folate increase was contributed by 5-methyltetrahydrofolate polyglutamates and 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate polyglutamates, which were also major forms of folate in control fruit. The accumulated pteridines included neopterin, monapterin, and hydroxymethylpterin; their reduced forms, which are folate biosynthesis intermediates; and pteridine glycosides not previously found in plants. Engineered fruit with intermediate levels of pteridine overproduction attained the highest folate levels. PABA pools were severely depleted in engineered fruit that were high in folate, and supplying such fruit with PABA by means of the fruit stalk increased their folate content by up to 10-fold. These results demonstrate that engineering a moderate increase in pteridine production can significantly enhance the folate content in food plants and that boosting the PABA supply can produce further gains.

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