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Keywords:

  • Accumulation;
  • acrylamide;
  • asparagine;
  • food;
  • potato;
  • wheat

Abstract

Interest in plant asparagine has rapidly taken off over the past 5 years following the report that acrylamide, a neurotoxin and potential carcinogen, is present in cooked foods, particularly carbohydrate-rich foods such as wheat and potatoes which are subjected to roasting, baking or frying at high temperatures. Subsequent studies showed that acrylamide could be formed in foods by the thermal degradation of free asparagine in the presence of sugars in the Maillard reaction. In this article, our current knowledge of asparagine in plants and in particular its occurrence in cereal seeds and potatoes is reviewed and discussed in relation to acrylamide formation. There is now clear evidence that soluble asparagine accumulates in most if not all plant organs during periods of low rates of protein synthesis and a plentiful supply of reduced nitrogen. The accumulation of asparagine occurs during normal physiological processes such as seed germination and nitrogen transport. However, in addition, stress-induced asparagine accumulation can be caused by mineral deficiencies, drought, salt, toxic metals and pathogen attack. The properties and gene regulation of the enzymes involved in asparagine synthesis and breakdown in plants are discussed in detail.