Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Protato


Genetically engineered food has had many breakthroughs over the past few decades, including the development of the Protato. The issue of food security in a rapidly growing global population suffering high child mortality rates due to severe malnutrion is being tackled by scientists in India, who have developed a transgenic potato that contains extra protein and yields more per crop- dubbed the ‘Protato’.

The genetically modified protato has one added gene found in the edible amaranth plant from South America; Amaranth Albumin 1 also known as AmA1. This gene turns on a storage protein in the tuber which enables the potato to store and produce up to 60% more protein and amino acids, in particular lysine which is critical in brain development (Chakraborty, 2003, see Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). The optimised amino acid balance allowed the tuber to more effectively synthesise protein and as such the genetically modified protatoes contain 4.8g of protein

making up 10% of the recommended daily intake of protein in comparison to normal potatoes which only contain 3g and 6% RDI of protein (MacKenzie 2010 see http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19473-transgenic-indian-superspuds-pack-more-protein.html).

The capacity of the tubers to photosynthesise was also greatly increased which allowed for a significantly higher crop yield between “15-25% more potatoes per hectare by weight” (MacKenzie 2010). The gain in yield has several benefits including an increase in biomass available to use in alternative energy methods, an increase in industry fodder and most importantly a cheap method of feeding millions of starving people in developing countries, especially in predominately vegetarian India where plant and legume sources are scarce and costly (Coghlan, 2003 see http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn3219-genetically-modified-protato-to-feed-indias-poor.html). Another positive outcome of experimentation is the retainment or improvement of cooking quality, taste and digestibility (MacKenzie 2010) meaning that the quality of food has not been sacrificed for increased quantity and commercial gain.

Extensive experimentation and testing has shown that the transgenic potatoes are non-toxic and non-allergenic after being tested on rats and rabbits - since the additional gene was derived from an edible crop. Additionally, the AmA1 gene was spliced into seven different varieties of commercially available potatoes which suit many different climate regions throughout the globe. As potatoes are a staple in many developing countries, this easy to grow (Stoppani, 2003) and cost effective protato will be suitable for human consumption and may help to alleviate hunger.

In essence, the protato, if made available to the public commercially, would be acceptable in terms of health and safety standards and would benefit the global community due to its increase in protein production and crop yield, despite current concerns regarding genetically modified foods and their safety for humans and the environment.

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