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Protein May Speed Screening of Tomatoes, Taters, Eggplants

By Marcia Wood
September 29, 1997

A new protein built by scientists promises to speed and simplify the plant breeder’s task of screening new tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants for food safety.

Plant breeders scrutinize new plant varieties to ensure they don't exceed safe levels of bitter-tasting natural compounds called glycoalkaloids. The chore will be simplified with a new, easy-to-use test kit now in the planning stage.

The test kit will feature the new protein, named Sol-129. The protein, a lab-built molecule known as a monoclonal antibody, was designed by scientists with the Agricultural Research Service.

Researchers want the test to be portable, fast and accurate. Tomorrow's tomato breeders, for example, might use it to screen candidate plants that offer better flavor, brighter color or greater insect resistance.

Using monoclonal antibodies to detect glycoalkaloids isn't a new idea. But the Sol-129 monoclonal antibody apparently is the first to detect the main glycoalkaloids of all three veggies, according to ARS biologist Larry H. Stanker at College Station, Texas.

The scientists named the monoclonal antibody Sol-129 because tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants are members of the botanical family Solanaceae. ARS has patented Sol-129.

Scientific contact: Larry H. Stanker, ARS Food and Feed Safety Research Unit, College Station, Texas, phone (409) 260-9484, fax 260-9332,