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Vitamin A regulation

Carotenoids are tetraprenoids (C40) molecules synthesized in plants, fungi, bacteria and algae, via the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway (CBP). Some carotenoids, such as β-carotene, α-carotene and β-cryptoxanthin, are readily converted to vitamin A in the human body.

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) affects millions of people globally, especially children under 5 years of age in Africa and East Asia, due to staple diets highly rich in carbohydrates. Symptoms of VAD include childhood blindness and depressed body immune system, leading to death. Plant breeding and metabolic engineering of the CBP of staple crops such as cereals, could alleviate the VAD problem. Due to limited information about carotenoid gene regulation at systems level, the efforts to predictably control carotenoid content in plants have been hampered.

To contribute to the knowledge about carotenogenesis, a computations research approach at systems level is being used at SANBI to identify putative conditions that influence carotenoid gene expression and to elucidate the carotenogenesis regulatory network in arabidopsis thaliana.
Global arabidopsis micro-array analysis in conjunction with a literature review have revealed the core carotenoid pathway and co-expressed genes, putative conditions and important regulatory motifs associated with CBP. Observed modular gene expression patterns and predicted functional associations are currently being investigated.

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