Biosynthesis of Antinutritional Alkaloids in Solanaceous Crops Is Mediated by Clustered Genes

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Science  12 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6142, pp. 175-179
DOI: 10.1126/science.1240230

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From Nasty to Tasty

Some of our favorite food crops derive from wild relatives that were distasteful or even toxic. Domestication over many years selected for variants with reduced levels of antinutritional compounds. The wild relatives remain valuable, however, for other traits such as resistance to pathogens, but their use in crop development is complicated by the continued presence of unpalatable compounds. Itkin et al. (p. 175, published online 20 June) elucidate the metabolic pathways and genes directing synthesis of some of these antinutritionals in potato and tomato.


Steroidal glycoalkaloids (SGAs) such as α-solanine found in solanaceous food plants—as, for example, potato—are antinutritional factors for humans. Comparative coexpression analysis between tomato and potato coupled with chemical profiling revealed an array of 10 genes that partake in SGA biosynthesis. We discovered that six of them exist as a cluster on chromosome 7, whereas an additional two are adjacent in a duplicated genomic region on chromosome 12. Following systematic functional analysis, we suggest a revised SGA biosynthetic pathway starting from cholesterol up to the tetrasaccharide moiety linked to the tomato SGA aglycone. Silencing GLYCOALKALOID METABOLISM 4 prevented accumulation of SGAs in potato tubers and tomato fruit. This may provide a means for removal of unsafe, antinutritional substances present in these widely used food crops.

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