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Natural Pigments and L-DOPA production in Plants

Technology Number: 


Principal Investigator



Plant Sciences

Patent Status: 


L-DOPA is a high value compound used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and a precursor for other high value compounds. Current industrial methods for producing L-DOPA are problematic in terms of complexity, yield, or toxic byproducts.
Betalains are robust, flavorless, natural water soluble dyes, in the color ranges of both red-violet and yellow-orange. Currently there is no natural quality source for water soluble natural yellow dyes, with present natural yellow dyes being water insoluble.
The present technology offers an alternative method that is simple, does not produce side-products, and is non-toxic with Tyrosine being the only feedstock. The technology produces L-DOPA and natural water soluble yellow and red Betalain dyes, both within yeast and in different plant species.


  • Production of L-DOPA for use in pharmaceuticals or dietary supplements.
  • Synthesis of water soluble yellow and red natural dyes for use as colorants, antioxidants, and food supplements.
  • Altering coloration of ornamental plants by inserting the metabolic pathway.


  • One-step reaction for L-DOPA synthesis from Tyrosine.
  • Non-toxic and non-hazardous synthesis.
  • Ecologically friendly - no waste management issues.
  • Multiple colors can be produced with yellow, red, or orange if pathways combined.
  • Flavorless - avoid influencing the taste of different products.
  • Flexibility in biosynthetic production - multiple possible host systems.
  • Specificity - no side products produced
  • Mild Conditions - enzyme(s) requires ambient temperatures.

Technology's Essence

The present technology takes advantage of the Betalain biosynthetic pathway to selectively produce L-DOPA and natural Betalain dyes. A newly discovered, specific, cytochrome P450-CYP76AD6 begins the pathway, with the capacity to convert Tyrosine to L-DOPA. Then L-DOPA is converted to Betalamic acid via DOPA 4, 5-dioxygenase.
With the Betalamic acid intermediate, the biosynthetic pathway diverges to make either Betaxanthins (yellow dyes) or Betacyanins (red dyes). In the production of yellow dyes an amine (e.g. amino acid) spontaneously reacts with Betalamic acid. In the case of red dyes, cycloDOPA (generated by the enzyme CYP76AD1 modifying Tyrosine and L-DOPA) and a Betalain-related glucosyltransferase react with Betalamic acid. Furthermore the two pathways can be done in parallel to produce an orange color.


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