Biosynthesis of the Food and Cosmetic Plant Pigment Bixin (Annatto)

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Science  27 Jun 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5628, pp. 2089-2091
DOI: 10.1126/science.1085162

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Bixin, also known as annatto, is a seed-specific pigment widely used in foods and cosmetics since pre-Columbian times. We show that three genes from Bixa orellana, native to tropical America, govern bixin biosynthesis. These genes code for lycopene cleavage dioxygenase, bixin aldehyde dehydrogenase, and norbixin carboxyl methyltransferase, which catalyze the sequential conversion of lycopene into bixin. Introduction of these three genes in Escherichia coli engineered to produce lycopene induced bixin synthesis, thus expanding the supply of this economically important plant product.

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