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Pigments derived from plants

Use of carotenoid, anthocyanin, and betalaine pigments derived from plants for food use

Contact: Lydia Smith

The potential of plants that synthesize secondary metabolites is enormous and still largely unexplored. These metabolites can be useful in producing food, medicines, biopesticides, bioherbicides, forage, and other important applications. However, little research has been done in the genetic improvement of these plants or crops for new uses, and in some cases it has not even been proposed. This was once the case with annatto Bixa orellana, a bush that produces high amounts of the pigment bixin. Over the last 6 years researchers in Mexico have been working on determining some of this species’ genetic and molecular bases in an effort to genetically improve it with the aim of generating homozygous lines with desirable agronomic characteristics.

Dr. R. Rivera from Mexico is currently working with the NIAB team and contributing to assembling a new research group in Mexico. The aim is to use new promising plants with secondary metabolite production that could be genetically improved, using a range of techniques, including classic breeding approaches allied to molecular marker selection, in crops such as tomato, and carrots. The addition of Bixa orellana (annatto) to NIAB work will complement the work of both the English and Mexican teams, and ideally produce more widely applicable results. Dr Rivera will concentrate on tomato and carrot, both of which are excellent models and have broad possibilities for producing a range of pigments from yellow to purple. Over the long-term, these models can be used to improve metabolite synthesis.

Funding: Mexican Government; NIAB Trust

Collaborating Organisations: Elsom Seeds; Seminis