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Plant Biotechnol J. 2004 Jan;2(1):37-43.

Over-expression of hydroxynitrile lyase in transgenic cassava roots accelerates cyanogenesis and food detoxification.

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  • 1Department of Plant Biology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


Cassava (Manihot esculenta, Crantz) roots are the primary source of calories for more than 500 million people, the majority of whom live in the developing countries of Africa. Cassava leaves and roots contain potentially toxic levels of cyanogenic glycosides. Consumption of residual cyanogens (linamarin or acetone cyanohydrin) in incompletely processed cassava roots can cause cyanide poisoning. Hydroxynitrile lyase (HNL), which catalyses the conversion of acetone cyanohydrin to cyanide, is expressed predominantly in the cell walls and laticifers of leaves. In contrast, roots have very low levels of HNL expression. We have over-expressed HNL in transgenic cassava plants under the control of a double 35S CaMV promoter. We show that HNL activity increased more than twofold in leaves and 13-fold in roots of transgenic plants relative to wild-type plants. Elevated HNL levels were correlated with substantially reduced acetone cyanohydrin levels and increased cyanide volatilization in processed or homogenized roots. Unlike acyanogenic cassava, transgenic plants over-expressing HNL in roots retain the herbivore deterrence of cyanogens while providing a safer food product.

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