"Transfer engineering" eliminates toxins from edible part of rapeseed plant


August 7, 2012

The rapeseed plant is one of the most widely cultivated crops in the world and researchers have now found a way to stop toxins entering edible parts of the plant (Photo: Shutterstock)

The rapeseed plant is one of the most widely cultivated crops in the world and researchers have now found a way to stop toxins entering edible parts of the plant (Photo: Shutterstock)

As well as being the third largest source of vegetable oil in the world – after soybean and oil palm – rapeseed (also known as rape, oilseed rape, rapa, rappi and rapeseed) is cultivated in Europe primarily for animal feed. But due to high levels of glucosinolates that are harmful to most animals (including humans) when consumed in large amounts, its use must be limited. Now researchers at the University of Copenhagen have found a way to stop unwanted toxins entering the edible parts of the plant, thereby increasing the potential of the plant to be used as a commercial animal feed.

Unlike the healthy glucosinolates found in broccoli, the glucosinolate found in rapeseed has toxic effects in both humans and animals in high doses. It also results in feed meal that is very bitter and unappealing to animals. This has led to the development of breeds with reduced glucosinolate content, such as Canola, which produces edible oil suitable for consumption by humans. However, animal intake of the protein-rich rapeseed cake, which is produced using the byproduct of rapeseeds pressed for oil and used for pig and chicken feed, must be limited, meaning that Northern Europe still imports large amounts of soy cake for animal feed.

By uncovering two proteins responsible for transporting glucosinolates into the seeds of the thale cress plant, a close relative to the rapeseed plant, researchers from the University of Copenhagen were able to produce thale cress without these two proteins and found that their seeds were completely glucossinolate free and therefore suitable for animal feed.

Professor Barbara Ann Halkier, head of the Center of Excellence for Dynamic Molecular Interactions (DynaMo) at the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Science says the team calls their new technology for eliminating unwanted substances from the edible parts of plants and crops “transport engineering.”

The team’s research has attracted the attention of Bayer CropScience, one of the world’s biggest plant biotech companies, which is now negotiating with the University of Copenhagen’s Tech Transfer Unit to team up with the research group and apply their approach to producing rapeseed plants with glucosinolate-free seeds.

The team’s research is published in the journal Nature.

Source: University of Copenhagen

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

"Canola" is the marketer's prefered name for this stuff, if you want to avoid it. In the wild, birds will eat it as a last resort, but they die if they can't move on to another food.

Bob Stuart

Do animals eat that stuff on their own? So something semi-poisonous and cheap will now be non-poisonous and I'm sure more expensive. Time to take healthy foods and make them even healthier.

Carlos Grados

Notice how they avoided saying that they genetically modified the rape plants. I wouldn't even uses it for diesel or biomass.


Leave nature ALONE, please. Screw "corporate profits". They can find something else to use that's 100% NATURAL.


I'd much rather see developments in research to use the rapeseed family to create biodiesel fuel. I'm also wondering why Europe has to import soy. Why not just grow it themselves? There must be a good reason.

Gene Jordan

A lot of negative comments. Granted, genetically modifying food must be carefully watched. But lets get real. Leave nature alone? Since when is mass crop growth "nature"? And "I wouldn't even use it for diesel of biomass"? Really? Starvation is not pretty. If we can maximize the amount of food and feed grown on farmland we can actually shrink the amount of land used for making that food. Which is a good thing. I live in Connecticut, US. in the 1920's 30% of the land was forested. It was all crop and grazing land. Since then all the farms have "moved" to the mid-west due to the ease of farming out there and now we have 70% of our land is forested. All the animals have come back in the last twenty years..... Farming efficiency is important. And the best way to improve farming is to modify the crops we are growing.


(copy and paste you will prevent typos that way unless turning or into of was intentional) "I wouldn't even use it for diesel or biomass"? Really?" Yes Really. I would grow other crops.

GMO has not demonstrated increased farm yields. The USofA Farm production Is being intentionally kept well below potential by government action.

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