The aspartate-derived amino acid pathway in plants leads to the biosynthesis of lysine, methionine, threonine, and isoleucine. These four amino acids are essential in the diets of humans and other animals, but are present in growth-limiting quantities in some of the world's major food crops. Genetic and biochemical approaches have been used for the functional analysis of almost all Arabidopsis thaliana enzymes involved in aspartate-derived amino acid biosynthesis. The branch-point enzymes aspartate kinase, dihydrodipicolinate synthase, homoserine dehydrogenase, cystathionine gamma synthase, threonine synthase, and threonine deaminase contain well-studied sites for allosteric regulation by pathway products and other plant metabolites. In contrast, relatively little is known about the transcriptional regulation of amino acid biosynthesis and the mechanisms that are used to balance aspartate-derived amino acid biosynthesis with other plant metabolic needs. The aspartate-derived amino acid pathway provides excellent examples of basic research conducted with A. thaliana that has been used to improve the nutritional quality of crop plants, in particular to increase the accumulation of lysine in maize and methionine in potatoes.
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