• Open Access

Mature-stem expression of a silencing-resistant sucrose isomerase gene drives isomaltulose accumulation to high levels in sugarcane


Correspondence (Tel 61733653347; fax 61733651699; email r.birch@uq.edu.au)


Isomaltulose (IM) is a natural isomer of sucrose. It is widely approved as a food with properties including slower digestion, lower glycaemic index and low cariogenicity, which can benefit consumers. Availability is currently limited by the cost of fermentative conversion from sucrose. Transgenic sugarcane plants with developmentally-controlled expression of a silencing-resistant gene encoding a vacuole-targeted IM synthase were tested under field conditions typical of commercial sugarcane cultivation. High yields of IM were obtained, up to 483 mm or 81% of total sugars in whole-cane juice from plants aged 13 months. Using promoters from sugarcane to drive expression preferentially in the sugarcane stem, IM levels were consistent between stalks and stools within a transgenic line and across consecutive vegetative field generations of tested high-isomer lines. Germination and early growth of plants from setts were unaffected by IM accumulation, up to the tested level around 500 mm in flanking stem internodes. These are the highest yields ever achieved of value-added materials through plant metabolic engineering. The sugarcane stem promoters are promising for strategies to achieve even higher IM levels and for other applications in sugarcane molecular improvement. Silencing-resistant transgenes are critical to deliver the potential of these promoters in practical sugarcane improvement. At the IM levels now achieved in field-grown sugarcane, direct production of IM in plants is feasible at a cost approaching that of sucrose, which should make the benefits of IM affordable on a much wider scale.