Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Corn Fungus Tapped for Carotenoid Production / March 29, 2004 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Agricultural Research Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
ARS News and Information Search News and Info Science for Kids Image Gallery Agricultural Research Magazine Publications and Newsletters News Archive News and Info home ARS News and Information
Latest news | Subscribe

 

Corn Fungus Tapped for Carotenoid Production

By Jan Suszkiw
March 29, 2004

A fungus may hold the key to unlocking new, value-added uses for corn fiber and distiller's dry grains with solubles (DDGS) – the "leftovers" of making ethanol. That's the hope of Agricultural Research Service scientists, who modified the fungus Fusarium sporotrichioides with genes for making lycopene and other carotenoids.

Lycopene, a pigment that makes tomatoes red, is considered a "nutraceutical" for its purported health benefits. Some research suggests lycopene helps prevent certain cancers in people who routinely consume foods containing the carotenoid. Supplements are available for consumers who can't or don't want to eat these foods, but still desire lycopene's benefits, notes geneticist Timothy Leathers, at the ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, Ill.

In the modified fungus, Leathers sees a potential way to mass-produce lycopene from ethanol co-products like corn fiber rather than extract and purify the carotenoid from tomatoes. Corn fiber is ideal because it's abundant and costs about five cents a pound. The U.S. ethanol industry generates four million tons of the fiber annually, and sells it as livestock feed to avoid disposal fees. The same applies for DDGS, notes Leathers, at the ARS center's Fermentation Biotechnology Research Unit.

Proof-of-concept studies at the Peoria center showed that when cultured in lab flasks, the modified fungus produced 0.5 milligram of lycopene per gram of dry weight within six days. The plan now is to scale up the studies by culturing the fungus in fermenters on a growth medium containing the corn fiber or DDGS.

To equip F. sporotrichioides for the job, the team first "short-circuited" the metabolic pathways by which it makes natural trichothecene toxins. Then, using a patented recombinant technique (6,372,479), the team "re-wired" the fungus with new genes for making lycopene. ARS patented the microbe on Feb. 24 (6,696,282). Leathers' colleagues are James Jones of Northwestern University and Thomas Hohn of Syngenta. Both are former ARS scientists.

ARS is USDA's chief scientific research agency.

Top | News Staff | Photo Staff

E-mail the web team Privacy and other policies Site map About ARS Information Staff Bottom menu

Home | News | Pubs | Magazine | Photos | Sci4Kids | Search
About ARS Info | Site map | Policies | E-mail us

Last Modified: 3/29/2004
Footer Content Back to Top of Page