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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gelatin from corn, a first

photo courtesy USDABoston 8/22/07:: Scientists meeting in Boston last week announced an advance toward turning corn plants into natural factories producing gelatin.

Currently gelatin for food and used by the pharmaceutical industry for manufacturing capsules is derived almost exclusively from animal products. The advance, described Wednesday at the 234th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, may lead to a safe, inexpensive source of this protein.

About 55,000 tons of animal-sourced gelatin are used each year to produce capsules and tablets for medicinal purposes. Plant-derived recombinant gelatin would address concerns about the possible presence of infectious agents in animal by-products and the lack of traceability of the source of the raw materials currently used to make gelatin. Resourcing plant materials to recover and purify recombinant gelatin has remained a challenge because only very low levels accumulate at the early stages of the development process.

Now, scientists at Iowa State University in Ames and FibroGen, Inc., in South San Francisco say they have developed a purification process to recover these small quantities of recombinant gelatin present in the early generations of transgenic corn.

The studies establish transgenic corn as a viable way to produce gelatin and potentially other products, Said Charles Glatz, Ph.D., a professor of chemical & biological engineering at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa who worked with others including Cheng Zhang a doctoral student at Iowa State to develop the procedure.
In time, researchers may also be able to develop a variety of “designer” gelatins, with specific molecular weights and properties tailored to suit various needs.
“Corn is an ideal production unit, because it can handle high volumes at a low cost,” Glatz said. In addition the recombinant gelatin is free from the safety concerns of using meat byproducts.

The group is now working to refine the method and boost the overall recombinant protein yields in corn. Though the procedure requires more testing, Glatz says the technique could someday be used to produce high-grade gelatin in a safe and inexpensive manner.

Overall costs could be further reduced by combining the production of gelatin in corn with the extraction of non-protein parts of the grain — such as oils and starches — that are now grown and harvested for biodiesel and ethanol production, he adds.

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