Metabolic Imaging: Watching Sugars Move in Plants


Fluorine-18 is a radioactive isotope that emits positrons. Using positron emission tomography (PET), scientists can image the movement and localization, in living organisms, of molecules that contain fluorine-18. Fluorine-18-labeled-fluorosugars, that is, natural sugars into which fluorine-18 atoms have been incorporated, enable study of the mechanisms by which living organisms use and process these biomolecules and offer opportunities to observe sugar distribution and metabolism in real time. Fluorine-18 fluoro-deoxyglucose (FDG) has already been established as an important PET imaging agent in human medicine. It is well known that vascular plants transport the bulk of their carbohydrate load in the form of sucrose. Now, U.S. Department of Energy scientists at the University of Missouri—Columbia have synthesized fluorine-18-fluoro-deoxy-sucrose (FDS) and used it to obtain the first images of corn plant leaves that demonstrate realtime transport of the sugar. Their results will enable investigators to image sucrose metabolism in living plants and, from these images, gain insight into metabolic pathways in plants with potential value for biofuel production.


Gaddam, V., and M. Harmata. 2013. “Synthesis of 6′-Deoxy-6′-Fluorosucrose,” Carbohydrate Research 369, 38–41. DOI:10.1016/j.carres.2012.12.001.