Improved nutritional value from GM spud developed in India

Next-generation protein-rich potato expressing the seed protein gene AmA1 is a result of proteome rebalancing in transgenic tuber

Protein deficiency is the most crucial factor that affects physical growth and development and that increases morbidity and mortality especially in developing countries. Efforts have previously been made to improve protein quality and quantity in crop plants but with limited success. Here, we report the development of transgenic potatoes with enhanced nutritive value by tuber-specific expression of a seed protein. Up to 60% increase in total protein content was obtained.


Protein deficiency is the most crucial factor that affects physical growth and development and that increases morbidity and mortality especially in developing countries. Efforts have been made to improve protein quality and quantity in crop plants but with limited success. Here, we report the development of transgenic potatoes with enhanced nutritive value by tuber-specific expression of a seed protein, AmA1 (Amaranth Albumin 1), in seven genotypic backgrounds suitable for cultivation in different agro-climatic regions. Analyses of the transgenic tubers revealed up to 60% increase in total protein content. In addition, the concentrations of several essential amino acids were increased significantly in transgenic tubers, which are otherwise limited in potato. Moreover, the transgenics also exhibited enhanced photosynthetic activity with a concomitant increase in total biomass. These results are striking because this genetic manipulation also resulted in a moderate increase in tuber yield. The comparative protein profiling suggests that the proteome rebalancing might cause increased protein content in transgenic tubers. Furthermore, the data on field performance and safety evaluation indicate that the transgenic potatoes are suitable for commercial cultivation. In vitro and in vivo studies on experimental animals demonstrate that the transgenic tubers are also safe for human consumption. Altogether, these results emphasize that the expression of AmA1 is a potential strategy for the nutritional improvement of food crops

Subhra Chakraborty, Niranjan Chakraborty, Lalit Agrawal, Sudip Ghosh, Kanika Narula, Shubhendu Shekhar, Prakash S. Naik, P. C. Pande, Swarup Kumar Chakrborti, and Asis Datta
Published online before print September 20, 2010, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1006265107

Author Affiliations

aNational Institute of Plant Genome Research, New Delhi 110067, India;
bCentral Potato Research Institute, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh 171001, India; and
cCentral Potato Research Institute Campus, Modipuram, Uttar Pradesh 250110, India

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David Tribe

Written by David Tribe

David Tribe’s research career in academia and industry has covered molecular genetics, biochemistry, microbial evolution and biotechnology. He has over 60 publications and patents. Dr. Tribe's recent activities focus on agricultural policy and food risk management. He teaches graduate programs in food science and risk management as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Agriculture and Food Systems, University of Melbourne.


  1. This is actually not a new project. It dates back nearly a decade, and claims for protein content are similar to claims made back then.
    In the interim, I was given to understand that the scientist heading the project had retired, rendering the project dormant.
    During the project’s first incarnation, a number of world-renowned scientists who actually work with transgenic crops in laboratory and other settings questioned the claims of ‘Up to 60% increase in total protein content’. This included scientists from India.
    After all, the potato plant itself is geared to carbohydrate production. Making it a protein producer in a massive way would require some equally massive explanations of how this works.
    Now I personally would be in favor of this development, and of making it widely available, if true. Back when Ireland was dependent on the potato for sustenance, the average person working on a farm (heavy labor) needed to consume over ten lbs. of potatoes daily to stay alive. Even though potatoes are geared to carbohydrates, they are not nutrient-dense, making them a favorite food among many seeking to lose weight.
    I would recommend caution on the ‘protato’ claims until more information becomes available.

  2. Potato has a low protein content to start with, so a 60% increase does not yield a protein rich spud. But more protein is still an improvement

  3. Council for Biotech promotes this same research in an article today as “Researchers in India develop a protein-packed potato”
    Protein-packed?? Once again – just as in the case of the Texas A&M Calcium Packed Carrot – rather than the simpler solution to diversify crops and diets biotech wants to spend millions on toys that are meaningless in their relative nutrient delivery. Eat one leaf of collards and you get as much calcium as a bag of biotech carrot. I’m sure similar could be said for a spoonful of beans over a pound of these potatoes. Talk about risk assessment, what’s the risk of not funding quality ag research in order for boys to play with toys?
    And starvation in Ireland was caused by political and religious policies that had nothing to do with crop nutrition (much like India’s starvation has primarily been an ongoing echo of colonialism. Starvation in India was not nearly as wide-spread pre-British Empire). The Irish wouldn’t have been so dependent on the potato if not for poor British ag policies that were really driven by a more Colonialist anti-Catholic agenda. But I suppose biotech will build a plant time machine and go fix that as well.
    I declare this a fluffy meal of hype hype and more meaningless hype served up to feed the machine.

  4. Matthew
    Perhaps it would be productive to wait and see and judge the development on whether it performs usefully in the field and plate.
    Since in the colonial past many bad decisions based on politics or arrogant disregard for others caused much misery, we need to put all current opinions, including your own, Matthew, through critical evaluation — in case they also cause unintended misery. If wed listened to those who scoffed similarly at Pasteur about vaccines, we’d have much more infectious disease today.
    Seems to me that by throwing in reference to “time-machine” and assertions about “toys for boys” you are rather fond of rhetorical hyper hype yourself.

  5. Also, Matthew, your understanding of the significance of the Calcium Carrot could use a little fortification. The point was not that people could get all their calcium from carrots, not by a long shot, but that this was a proof-of-concept that calcium-transporter genes can be used to enhance not only the absorption of calcium by a plant, but that it would also increase the bioavailability of that calcium. It is not just the calcium content that is important, in fact many compounds in vegetables can have anti-nutrient effects that bind calcium and prevent it from being absorbed. One such compound is oxalate, and Collard Greens are particularly high in oxalate content, being a cruciferous vegetable. Yes you will absorb calcium from collard greens, but not as much per milligram of calcium content as from foods that are low in oxalate. I discuss this issue in the context of a more recent experiment with the same calcium-transporter gene used in lettuce:
    It appears that although people can buy into forward-looking hype, they can also fall victim to the opposite phenomenon: knee-jerk anti-hype.
    You do bring up a good point, and that is the issue of what is commonly called a “techno-fix.” What you are suggesting could be accurately described as a “socio-fix” (or “politico-fix”). While you may be right that technology does not automatically solve the world’s problems without creating other issues – the exact same thing can be said for socio-fixes. I think this aspect of the debate is really important to discuss, and I will have a full post on it with examples in the future.
    Maybe I could spur a little discussion by asking you, how do you expect people to grow and eat all the collard greens that you think they should? And for those that do not (or will not) eat them, wouldn’t enhancing the calcium content of other vegetables they do eat be an effective way of getting more calcium in their diet?

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