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Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Identify Key Genes for Increasing Oil Content in Plant Leaves

October 23, 2013

Scientists at the US Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have identifed the key genes required for oil production and accumulation in plant leaves and other vegetative plant tissues. Led by biochemist Changcheng Xu, the finding could have important implications for increasing the energy content of plant-based foods and renewable biofuel feedstocks.

Plants do not normally store much oil in their leaves and other vegetative tissues as oil is stored in seeds, where energy-dense compounds provide nourishment for developing plant embryos. Xu's studies aimed to find a way to "reprogram" plants to store oil in their more abundant forms of biomass. The scientists used different genetic techniques to test the effects of over-expressing or silencing genes that enable cells to make certain enzymes involved in oil production. They found that over-expressing the gene for the enzyme PDAT resulted in a 60-fold increase in leaf oil production, but when they activated a protein called oleosin together with PDAT, they observed a 130-fold increase in leaf oil production.

The team then tested the effects of over-expressing the newly identified oil-increasing genes (PDAT and oleosin) in test plants that already had an elevated rate of fatty acid synthesis and observed an even greater oil production and accumulation of 170-fold compared a point where oil accounted for nearly 10 percent of the leaf's dry weight.

For more details about this research, read the news release available at: