Designing starch – harnessing carbohydrate polymer synthesis in plants

Lead Research Organisation: John Innes Centre
Department Name: Contracts Office


Starch is a natural product produced by most land plants and algae with remarkable physico-chemical properties. It is composed of two polymers of glucose: amylose, a predominantly linear polymer of a-1,4 linked glucose units, and amylopectin, which also contains a-1,6 linkages (branch points) resulting in a tree-like structure. The simple constituents of starch (one type of monomer and two types of linkages) is contrasted by its complex and highly ordered structure, in which crystalline and amorphous layers alternate in a defined and regular fashion. This structure gives starch unique physicochemical properties, which make it an exceptionally tightly packed energy storage that is of such tremendous importance for the human diet and economy as a whole. Despite decades of intense research, it is still not understood how precisely starch granule biogenesis initiates and progresses. A relatively small number of enzymes are involved, but it is unclear how their activities are coordinated in order to ultimately control the structure and properties of starch.

The objective of our project is to gain a profound understanding of the regulation and control of the biophysical and biochemical processes involved in the formation of the complex polymeric structure that is the starch granule. We will apply this understanding to recreate the synthesis of starch in vitro and learn to control its physical and chemical properties in a targeted way. By expressing starch synthesising enzymes in yeast, an organism not natively producing starch, we will design starches with desired properties in vivo. This will be translated back in planta to genetically engineer plants producing starch with desired, pre-defined physico-chemical properties.


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