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Storage starch is an energy reservoir for plants and the major source of calories in the human diet. Starch is used in a broad range of industrial applications, as a cheap, abundant, renewable and biodegradable biopolymer. However, starch needs to be modified before it can fulfill the required properties for specific industrial applications. Genetic modification of starch, as a green technology with environmental and economic advantages, has attracted increasingly attention. Many achievements obtained from earlier studies have demonstrated the feasibility and potential of using this approach to produce starches with novel properties (Chapter 2).
The main objective of this research was to produce novel starches with enhanced functionalities through genetic modification, while gaining a better understanding of storage starch biosynthesis. A focus on potato was warranted as it represents a superior model system for storage starch biosynthesis studies and for the production of starches with novel properties. To this end, a number of enzymes from various sources have been expressed in potato tubers to modify starch phosphate content and polysaccharide structure, since these two characteristics have long been recognized as key features in starch properties.
To modify starch phosphate content and explore starch (de)phosphorylation, a human phosphatase enzyme named laforin, and modifications of it, were introduced into potato (Chapter 3). Interestingly, modified starches exhibited a significantly higher phosphate content rather than the expected lower phosphate content. Transcriptome analysis showed that the increase in phosphate content was a result of upregulation of starch phosphorylating genes, which revealed a compensatory response to the loss of phosphate content in potato starch. Furthermore, the increase of phosphate content in potato starch was reached to a threshold level. This was in line with the observations in the modified starches from overexpressed- Glucan water dikinase (GWD1) transgenic plants (Chapter 4). Furthermore, overexpression of two starch dikinases from Arabidopsis thaliana, glucan water dikinase 2 and 3 (AtGWD2 and AtGWD3), did not result in a significant increase in phosphate content of potato starch (Chapter 5). Taken together, these results indicated that phosphate content of potato starch is under strict control.
Morphological analysis of starch granules containing different levels of phosphate content confirmed the indispensible role of phosphate content in the normal formation of starch granules, since cracked granules were observed in the starches containing low phosphate content, while irregular bumpy shaped granules were observed in the tubers from plants containing high phosphate content. Interestingly, further analyses on the expression level of genes involved in starch metabolism and sugar-starch conversion suggested that starch phosphorylation might affect starch synthesis by controlling the carbon flux into starch while simultaneously modulating starch-synthesizing genes. Further studies are needed to confirm this finding (Chapter 4).
To produce starches with novel structures, an (engineered) 4, 6-α-glucanotransferase (GTFB) from Lactobacillus reuteri 121 was introduced into potato tubers (Chapter 6). The resulting starches showed severe changes in granule morphology, but not in starch fine structure. Transcriptome analysis revealed the existence of a self-repair mechanism to restore the regular packing of double helices in starch granules, which possibly resulted in the removal of novel glucose chains potentially introduced by the (engineered) GTFB.
This research successfully generated starches with various functionalities, including altered gelatinization characteristics (Chapter 3 and 4), improved freeze-thaw stability (Chapter 4) and higher digestibility (Chapter 6). The exploitation of relationships between starch characteristics and starch properties revealed that starch properties represent the outcome of the combined effect of many factors and are highly dependent on the genetic background in which the modification has been performed.
In conclusion, the research described in this thesis demonstrates the great potential of genetic modification in producing starches with novel properties. Meanwhile, these results revealed the presence of complex and exquisite molecular regulation mechanisms for starch biosynthesis in potato. In future research, these regulations need to be taken into account for the relational design of starch in planta. Certainly, a better understanding of the process of starch metabolism in storage organs would be a great step forward towards tailoring starch in an economically important crop such as potato.
|Qualification||Doctor of Philosophy|
|Award date||14 Oct 2016|
|Place of Publication||Wageningen|
|Publication status||Published - 2016|
- potato starch
- solanum tuberosum
- plant biotechnology
- genetic engineering
- transgenic plants
- modified starches
- arabidopsis thaliana
- plant breeding