The John Innes Centre led team modified [a] tomato fruit by introducing a gene responsible for the synthesis of L-DOPA in beetroot where it functions in the production of the pigments betalains.
L-DOPA is produced from tyrosine, an amino acid found in many foods. The research team inserted a gene encoding a tyrosinase, an enzyme that uses tyrosine to build molecules such as L-DOPA. This elevated the level of L-DOPA specifically in the fruit part of the plant and led to higher yields than those associated with L-DOPA production in the whole plant.
The levels achieved in the tomato fruit – 150mg of L-DOPA per kg of tomatoes – were comparable those observed in other L-DOPA accumulating plants – without some of the known drawbacks that have hampered plant metabolic production of the drug previously.
Parkinson’s disease is a growing problem in developing countries where many people cannot afford the daily $2 price of synthetic L-DOPA .
L-DOPA is an amino acid precursor of the neuro-chemical dopamine and is used to compensate for the depleted supply of dopamine in Parkinson’s disease patients.
Also known as Levodopa, L-DOPA has been the gold standard therapy for Parkinson’s disease since its establishment as a drug in 1967.