Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Discovery of Plant Proteins May Boost Agricultural Yields and Biofuel Production

15.05.2012
Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Iowa State University discovered a family of plant proteins that play a role in the production of seed oils, substances important for animal and human nutrition, biorenewable chemicals and biofuels.
Scoring a rare scientific hat trick, the researchers identified
three related proteins in thale cress plants (Arabidopsis thaliana) that regulate the metabolism of fatty acids, chemical components of all cell membranes and vegetable oils. They dubbed these fatty-acid binding proteins FAP1, FAP2 and FAP3.

The findings, reported May 13 in Nature, may lead to the development of improved crops yielding higher qualities and quantities of oils, helping to address growing demands for food and fuel and the consequent environmental pressures on the world's ecosystems.

"This work has major implications for modulating the fatty acid profiles of plants, which is terribly important, not only to sustainable food production and nutrition but now to biorenewable chemicals and fuels," says Joseph Noel, director of Salk's Jack H. Skirball Center for Chemical Biology and Proteomics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator, who led the multidisciplinary study together with Eve Syrkin Wurtele, professor of Genetics, Development and Cell Biology at the Plant Research Institute at Iowa State.

"Because very high-energy molecules such as fatty acids are created in the plant by solar energy," says Wurtele, "these types of molecules may ultimately provide the most efficient sources for biorenewable products."

Plant oils are composed primarily of triglycerides, formed by linking together three fatty acid molecules, and are stored mostly in seeds, where they are used for energy during germination. Seeds are crucial sources of oils for nutrition, flavoring and industrial applications, such as the manufacture of soap and cosmetics and for biofuels. With growing concerns about global climate change and petroleum security, producing biofuels for use in transportation and energy generation is a burgeoning industry.

To help address this demand, scientists are unlocking the molecular pathways involved in seed oil metabolism in hopes of finding ways to boost capacity and quality.

In their study, Noel and his collaborators identified three promising genes through analysis of plant genomic data, and then used a variety of techniques, including protein x-ray crystallography, computational biology, biochemistry, mutant plant analysis, metabolomics and gene expression profiling, to functionally characterize the proteins these genes produce.

They found that the proteins, FAP1, FAP2 and FAP3, bind fatty acids, including the major plant omega-3 fatty acid, an important nutritional component found in certain seeds. "They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is certainly the case for these FAPs," says Gordon Louie, an HHMI researcher in Noel's laboratory, who determined the three-dimensional arrangement of the FAPs holding on to their fatty acid cargo.

The proteins were found in the chloroplasts, the site of fatty acid production and photosynthesis. This suggested that these proteins play a role in the metabolism of fatty acids and thus in the production of fatty acids for plant membranes and oils.

This hypothesis was reinforced by showing that the FAP genes are most active in developing seeds, appearing at the same time and location as well-known enzymes involved in fatty acid synthesis. The researchers also found that altering the expression of these genes in a plant leads to changes in the quality and amounts of fatty acids.

"The proteins appear to be crucial missing links in the metabolism of fatty acids in Arabidopsis, and likely serve a similar function in other plant species since we find the same genes spread throughout the plant kingdom," says Ryan Philippe, a postdoctoral researcher in Noel's lab.

Micheline Ngaki, a graduate student in Wurtele's lab, says that if the researchers can understand precisely what role the proteins play in seed oil production, they might be able to modify the proteins' activity in new plant strains to produce more oil or higher quality oil than current crops.

The researchers' findings also have implications for evolutionary biology and how large and essential families of enzymes arise from nonenzymatic cousins and are then perfected by evolution.

The ancient ancestors of the proteins the research teams discovered evolved into the enzyme chalcone isomerase, which plays a key role in the production of a group of polyphenols known as flavonoids, compounds that serve a number of functions in plants and are critical for disease prevention in human diets.

"One function of flavonoids is to protect plants from sunlight, which would have been key when plants first emerged from the oceans and lakes to colonize land," says Noel. "We've shown that the very ancient FAP proteins still found in algae and other non-plant organisms acquired chalcone isomerase activity hundreds of millions of years ago, allowing land plants to produce flavonoids for survival in the absence of the protective environment of water."

The discovery may also help bioengineers focused on creating new enzymes for industrial uses by revealing how nature evolves proteins into chemical machines known as enzymes.

"Nature has been perfecting enzymes for at least three billion years because they carry out the hundreds of thousands of chemical reactions in all organisms, and these reactions are needed by us all to survive and prosper," says Noel. "We could learn a lot by understanding that three-billion year old experiment."

Other collaborators on the study include, Ling Li, adjunct professor in the Department of Genetics Development and Cell Biology at Iowa State; Gerard Manning, director of Salk's Razavi Newman Center for Bioinformatics; and Marianne Bowman, Florence Pojer and Elise Larsen, HHMI researchers in Salk's Jack H. Skirball Center for Chemical Biology and Proteomics.
The National Science Foundation, National Cancer Institute and HHMI funded the research.

Image: Courtesy of Eve Syrkin Wurtele, Iowa State
The researchers identified three proteins involved in seed oil production in thale cress plants. This thale cress seedling is shown producing one of the proteins, evidenced by the blue stain on its stems and leaves

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world's preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer's, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.

Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.

Andy Hoang | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.salk.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Multi-institutional collaboration uncovers how molecular machines assemble
02.12.2016 | Salk Institute

nachricht Fertilized egg cells trigger and monitor loss of sperm’s epigenetic memory
02.12.2016 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>