A team of researchers from Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., has achieved a scientific breakthrough by identifying a gene found in guar and carob plants that produces “gum,” a key food additive.

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.