Ripening coffee berries.
Coffee aficionados may look down their noses at decaf beans, which are chemically treated to rob them of their caffeine, and, some say, their flavor. But the market for decaf is worth $2 billion a year, and if scientists can create a bean that’s naturally stimulant-free, well…that would be a kick. A new feature at Nature News chronicles the frantic efforts of plant biotechnologists to create such a caffeine-free coffee bean. It’s a tall order:
Developing such a bean through conventional breeding or even genetic modification has proved more difficult than anyone anticipated. Coffee plants take years to begin producing beans, and can be fickle when they do. Moreover, to make them profitable to farm, the plants need to be productive, ripen synchronously and be of a size and shape that can be harvested easily by hand or by machines. The loss of any of these traits can render a plant worthless.
Human serum albumin is used in everything from vaccines to cell culture.
Human blood is in demand these days. Donor blood is required for transfusions, of course, but it also contains human serum albumin, a blood protein used to treat shock, severe burns, and liver injuries that also shows up in vaccines and in cell culture materials. Worldwide, we use about 500 tons of human serum albumin (abbreviated HSA) a year.
Shortages of the protein and the potential for contamination by blood-borne viruses have encouraged scientists to look beyond donor blood for sources. One promising approach, inserting the gene for HSA into plants and then harvesting the resulting protein, has always yielded too little for the method to make sense financially, but a new paper details a way to get around that: get the plant to make HSA in its seeds, which are lean, mean protein-concentrating machines. HSA made up 10% of the soluble protein in the rice seeds produced by the research team, one of the highest yields on record from a transgenic plant. And when the team put it through its chemical paces, it worked exactly like normal, human-grown HSA, indicating that its sojourn in the plant world hadn’t impaired its usefulness. If all goes as planned, the team will be testing rice-grown HSA in people in clinical trials in the next two years, with an eye towards supplanting donor blood as a source.
[via Nature News]
Image courtesy of Borislav Mitel / Wikimedia Commons