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Crop Biotech Update

Researchers Find Mechanism to Help Engineer Plants to Make More Oil

October 3, 2018

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory discovered how a sugar-signalling molecule helps control oil production in plant cells. The results, published in The Plant Cell journal could provide new strategies to engineer plants to produce large amounts of oil for biofuels and other oil-based products.

A previous study by John Shanklin and team at Brookhaven Lab showed a clear connection between a protein complex called KIN10 which senses sugar levels in plant cells and another protein (WRINKLED1) that serves as the switch for oil production. Using the previous study's findings, the researchers demonstrated that combinations of genetic variants can be used to boost sugar production in the leaves to drive up oil production.

"By measuring the interactions among many different molecules, we determined that the sugar-signaling molecule, T6P, binds with KIN10 and interferes with its interaction with a previously unidentified intermediate in this process, known as GRIK1, which is needed for KIN10 to tag WRINKLED1 for destruction. This explains how the signal affects the chain of events and leads to increased oil production," Shanklin said. "It's not just sugar but the signaling molecule that rises and falls with sugar that inhibits the oil shut-off mechanism," he added.

Read the news release from Brookhaven National Lab.