Anabolic Steroids Increase the Protein Content of Potatoes – K.Swaminathan, K.C.Sud and B.C.Verma — Current Science volume 46 pp. 526 -527
This bizarre study comes out of India and dates back to 1977. The authors were attempting to jack up potatoes so they have more protein. As they explained, potato protein has very high biological value but unfortunately there is very little actual protein in potatoes (they are mostly comprised of starch). Fertilizers help somewhat but they still don’t quite do enough. So they figured that since anabolic steroids increase protein deposition in animals, then why not try and see if they worked on potatoes as well?
This is how they did the experiment. They sprayed the steroid methandrostenolone (also known as dianabol) on the leaves of the potato plants every two weeks or so. They also had control plants with placebo spray, and in addition to that they had plants which had urea (a protein precursor fertilizer) sprayed on them. There were also combined treatment potato plants (fertilizer and dianabol).
The results were quite striking – especially when they combined fertilizer treatment with dianabol. These potatoes had over twice as much protein in them as control potatoes on a percentage basis. The nitrogenous fertilizer and the dianabol definitely worked together to create an effect greater than either one alone. Sort of like how a high protein diet and steroids work very well when combined in athletes I suppose.
So what is going on here with the potatoes and the steroids? I don’t really know. I am pretty sure potatoes don’t have androgen receptors and androgen responsive genes such as those seen in animals. On the other hand, it is known that many plants have sex steroids such as testosterone and progesterone present in them. Could there be some sort of unidentified steroid receptors in plants that bind to these and turn on certain genes? Perhaps. Certainly the presence of sex hormones in plant species suggests that these compounds were around long before animals created the biological systems which respond to them. So was the development of them in plants an accident of evolution or can these perhaps be utilized by the plants themselves as some sort of hormone?