Genetic engineers create sugar that is not fattening

THE NEWS for slimmers just gets better and better. First there was Olestra, the fat that didn't make you fat; and now Dutch scientists have produced a sugar beet whose sugar tastes sweet but which the body cannot digest.

The result is a plant that efficiently makes a calorie-free sweetener known as a fructan, using genes taken from the Jerusalem artichoke. The first crop from a field trial of these transgenic plants will be harvested later this month.

The sugar industry is keenly interested in the new plants, but the companies involved have already put Dr Andries Koops, of the Centre for Plant Breeding and Reproduction Research in Wageningen, under a contractual gag on their names.

"I can't name them. But there are a number of patents being filed for this," he told The Independent. If commercially successful, such plants could revolutionise dieting and farming.

The sugar beet crop provides half of the UK's sugar, amounting to hundreds of thousands of tons annually, and biotechnology companies are already spending millions of pounds to develop herbicide-resistant transgenic forms of the plant, to improve crop yields.

Early results from the Dutch field trial suggest that the genetically modified plants are as healthy as normal sugar beet plants, which store sucrose in an underground root to help them survive the winter,

However, they might be infertile, because the normal sugar beet plant uses its stored sucrose to make seeds. The transgenic plant may lack the ability to turn its fructan store back into sugar, meaning the seeds are not viable.

That, though, could be an advantage in a commercial transgenic plant, since it would lower the chances of the gene crossing into wild species.

The modified plants contain a gene taken from the Jerusalem artichoke, which naturally turns the sucrose into fructans - indigestible forms of the fruit sugar fructose. Fructans taste sweet to the human palate. "We all have the enzymes to digest sucrose, which chemically is a disaccharide," said Professor Koops. "But fructans are trisaccharides" - consisting of three sugar molecules linked together - "and we can't digest those. Only some of the bacteria in our colons might be able to, and the results would be converted to fatty acids that would be dealt with by the liver."

The Dutch group's work, which has taken nine years, is reported this month in the science journal Nature Biotechnology.

"The system holds great promise for commercial exploitation," commented Professor Sjef Smeekens of the University of Utrecht, who said that for "those with a sweet tooth, but a mind for their waistline" the work should be a cause for celebration.

However, Dr Koops is less interested by this breakthrough than by future possibilities from transgenic sugar beet. "This is just testing the concept," he said. "What we are really looking at is the possibilities of using plants to produce chemicals such as polymers to order."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: £20000 - £25000 per annum + c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a number ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Sales Consultant - OTE £45,000

£15000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for an exci...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food