Pioneer scientists successfully transferred the gene to soybeans enabling the plants to manufacture a component of gum, which could make the ingredient more readily available to the food industry in the future.

Gums are most commonly used in the food industry as additives that provide texture, prevent ice crystal formation, maintain crispiness and retain moisture. These gums also have commercial uses in several other industries including cosmetics, human health, textiles and paper.

The ability to produce gums in high-yielding commercial crops such as soybeans could provide benefits for food manufacturers by stabilizing the supply of this important food ingredient. Currently, prices for gums derived from guar and carob fluctuate because of seasonal variations in crop performance.

"The goal was to identify and isolate the molecular components for producing galactomannan – the gum in the seeds of guar and carob plants – and to determine if it could be produced in soybeans and other commercial crops," said Kanwarpal S. Dhugga, a Pioneer biochemist who led the research team.

"The research project could result in new uses for soybeans and other crops and has helped us better understand plant functions."

Gums are made from the combined activities of two enzymes – one that forms the mannan backbone and the other that adds galactose sugars. Pioneer researchers identified the gene that encodes one of those enzymes. Using biotechnology tools, the gene was transferred to soybeans.

Preliminary tests indicate that the gene is functionally expressed in soybean seeds, meaning it produces mannan, which is necessary to produce gum. Previous research identified the gene that encodes the second enzyme in the equation.

This Pioneer research has also opened the way to better understand plant cell wall synthesis. Plant cell walls define the shape and size of plant cells, regulate plant growth and act as a defense against disease and pathogen attack. Wall composition has applications in feed quality and wet milling.

"The identification of the gene that aids in the production of gums could help us gain a greater understanding of how plants function," said Dhugga. "Biotechnology tools could then allow us to improve these functions such as plant growth rate, feed quality and wet milling to benefit farmers and consumers."

This latest agricultural discovery, published in the Jan. 16, 2004 issue of the journal "Science," demonstrates Pioneer's commitment to increasing the value of crops for its customers and DuPont's commitment to improving people's lives.

"Work on the project is in the very early stages," said Dhugga. "But we're excited about the discovery, the light it sheds on how plants grow and the impacts it might have on other plant research and product developments moving forward."

Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., a subsidiary of DuPont, is a leading source of customized solutions for farmers, livestock producers, and grain and oilseed processors. With headquarters in Des Moines, Pioneer provides access to advanced plant genetics, crop protection solutions, and quality crop systems to customers.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com