ANI Photo | Study finds rapeseed’s protein power for human consumption

Rapeseed plants provide half of the plant proteins consumed in the EU. Because the plant is bitter and hazardous for human eating, it has hitherto only been used for oil and animal feed.
University of Copenhagen researchers have moved closer to eliminating the plant’s bitter compounds in a new study published in Nature, clearing the path for a new protein source to assist the green transition.
Fields of yellow flowers herald the arrival of summer. More than 200,000 hectares of rapeseed are presently grown in Denmark for use as edible and industrial oils, as a protein supplement for animal feed, and as a protein supplement for animal feed – but not as a direct food source for people. While the bitter defence chemicals in the rapeseed plant keep disease and herbivores at away, they also render the plant inedible to humans.
Now, a team of scientific researchers from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences has identified the proteins that help store the bitter substances in seeds of thale cress, a model plant and close relative of rapeseed. The new research result has just been published in the renowned scientific journal Nature.
The knowledge can be used to remove these proteins and in doing so, rapreseed’s bitter taste, which offers a wealth of opportunity. Indeed, half of the EU’s locally-grown plant proteins already come from rapeseed plants.
“The climate crisis demands that we reduce meat consumption and eat more plants, which is where rapeseed has great potential as a new source of plant protein in the green transition. Our latest research results bring us a critical step closer to making full use of rapeseed,” says Professor Barbara Ann Halkier, who led the research.
Substances in wasabi and mustard are gone
Rapeseed’s bitter defensive substances are called glucosinolates and are best known as the spicy flavors in wasabi and mustard. As a result, the so-called rapeseed cake, which is the remains of the seeds after the oil has been squeezed out, has only been used in limited quantities as feed for pigs and chickens, despite its staggering 30-40 percent protein content.
The researchers succeeded in removing the bitter defensive substances by identifying the three proteins in the plant responsible for transporting the substances into its seeds. The new knowledge makes it possible to prevent the accumulation of these substances in the seed by removing the proteins by way of a technology called ‘transport engineering’. As such, the defensive substances remain in all other parts of the plant, allowing it to continue to defend itself.
“Our research demonstrates that the connection – a kind of umbilical cord – that exists between the seeds and surrounding fruit shell, is a cell factory for the production of glucosinolates which end up in the seeds. After all, plants are well rooted in soil and cannot just walk away when there is danger. They need to produce a multitude of defensive substances to protect themselves from attacks by disease and herbivores. Our discovery has allowed us to find a way to eliminate these bitter substances from the seeds,” says Dr. Deyang Xu, lead author of the new study.
So far, the researchers have shown that their method works in thale cress (Arabidobsis thaliana), a model plant closely related to the rapeseed plant.
“The next task is to show that we can transfer our result from Arabidopsis to the closely related rapeseed plant, which we are now working on,” said Dr. Xu.
The research that led to this discovery is the result of a long haul made possible by a 10-year grant from the Danish National Research Foundation to the DynaMo Centre at the Faculty of Science’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.
“I cannot stress enough how important this long-term grant has been for us to be able to land this major research result. It has really given us time to immerse ourselves in the details and geek out, which has paid off,” said Barbara Ann Halkier. (ANI)

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