Plant Scientists Work to Improve Production of Natural Sweetener

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Stevia Plant (view larger image)

The world’s leading supplier of all-natural, zero-calorie sweeteners is tapping MSU and some MABR scientists to help develop sweeter, more robust varieties of a South American plant.

PureCircle Ltd. engaged MSU horticulture researchers to help breed proprietary varieties of Stevia rebaudiana. Native to Paraguay, this offshoot of the chrysanthemum family has been known for centuries as “sweet leaf” by the Guarani Indians.

“We are excited to partner with an industry-leading company such as PureCircle to bring our cutting-edge knowledge and experience in horticultural plant breeding and genetics to this exciting new crop,” said MABR horticulture scientist Ryan Warner, lead researcher on the project. “This is a great example of combining the strengths of industry and academia to bring value to consumers.”

Some of the world’s leading food and beverage manufacturers are increasingly turning to stevia as a source of high-intensity natural sweetener in products ranging from soft drinks to yogurt. The hardy plant thrives without pesticides, making it more economically viable to grow than some other crops in subsistence-level communities. PureCircle Ltd. gets its stevia leaf from farmers in rural Thailand, Indonesia, China, Paraguay and Kenya.

“The incorporation of MSU’s leading-edge research combined with PureCircle’s industry-leading proprietary varieties will ensure that we continue to lead the industry with sustainable agriculture while improving the economics for both farmers and our customers,” PureCircle CEO Magomet Malsagov said. “The results will aid in PureCircle’s continued worldwide expansion of Reb-A volumes as well as increase our leadership in the next generation of steviol glycoside sweeteners.”

Rebaudioside-A is the single-molecule sweetener found in the stevia plant. High-purity Reb-A was cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in beverages and foods in 2008. On a weight basis, it is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar.

The joint plant breeding program will use conventional methods to develop improved varieties using MSU’s world-renowned plant science assets.

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