Scientists at the John Innes Centre and Institute of Food Research in Norwich, have pinpointed a key group of enzymes involved in the pro- duction of plant pigments, anthocyanins, that give some plants the vivid colours that they use to attract insects and
foraging animals. They also give plants protec- tion against environmental stresses and
disease. Hundreds of different anthocyanins exist in nature, all with slightly different
chemical compositions. The research team
identified a small number of genes responsible for the enzymes which chemically modify the anthocyanins that plants make in response to stress.
When they transferred these genes to a tobacco plant, the colour of the tobacco flowers changed slightly, confirming that these genes, and the enzymes that they produce, were indeed responsible for modifying anthocyanins. What is more, the anthocyanins that had been modified by the enzymes were more stable than those that had not.
This is significant because stabilised anthocyanins could be used as natural food colourants to replace many of the artificial colours used in food.
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First Published in March 2008
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