A University of Newcastle researcher has collaborated with Chinese scientists to uncover the secrets of sugar in plants – opening the door to the possibility of creating ‘diet fruit’.

Professor Yong-Ling Ruan at the University’s School of Environmental and Life Sciences, spent seven years on the groundbreaking study, examining the how, why, and where of sugar distribution in plant cells.

The team identified the indicators which decided how much sugar was transported and stored in different parts of a plant, such as the leaves or the fruit.

“The research basically is to unlock some of the secrets about how this transport works together to determine how much sugar should be getting in, or not,” Professor Ruan said.

“Knowing that can put us in a position to potentially manipulate those processes to either increase or decrease the sugar levels in the plant itself.”

Zooming in on apples and tomatoes, the team discovered two types of sugar transporters which moved glucose around on a molecular level.

Professor Ruan said the research could help farmers improve their crop yields or even to develop special low sugar fruit for diabetics.

“We could manipulate the sugar levels in say, tomato fruit, or apple, or peach, or sugar cane, and increase the yield for farmers,” Professor Ruan said.

“Or we could potentially reduce the levels of sugars but still maintain the sweetness, the taste, so that it’s a so-called diet fruit.”

Professor Ruan said the potential of the research in agriculture and industry was huge.

“For this particular research we used apples and tomatoes as a model system,” Professor Ruan said.

“But I can envisage the same or similar mechanisms in peach, pear, or chili – you name it.”