Nicotine isnt all bad, despite its addictive qualities and its presence in tobacco products, increasingly taboo in these health-conscious times. As a chemical compound, nicotine even has beneficial properties. Its used around the world as a relatively cheap, environmentally friendly insecticide, repelling bugs that attack tobacco and other plants, and - contrary to popular misconceptions - it is not a carcinogen.
Dr. Ralph Dewey
Take a nicotine molecule and snip off a methyl group, though, and youve got nicotines evil cousin: nornicotine. (A methyl group is one carbon and three hydrogen atoms.) This truncated version of nicotine, helped by certain tobacco-leaf microbes, converts to nitrosamines - potent carcinogens - during the tobacco-curing process. If researchers could find the genetic location of the enzyme that removes nicotines methyl group, tobacco with little or no nornicotine would be possible.
Thats the task of Dr. Ralph Dewey, professor of crop science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University. Working with select lines of Burley tobacco, he and his colleagues are trying to isolate the nicotine N-demethylase gene from among the 25,000 or so unique genes found in tobacco.
Ralph Dewey | EurekAlert!
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