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 Solving the efficiency of Gram-negative bacteria
22.03.2019 | Harvard University

nachricht Bacteria bide their time when antibiotics attack
22.03.2019 | Rice University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: The taming of the light screw

DESY and MPSD scientists create high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might find intriguing applications in petahertz electronics and for spectroscopic studies of novel quantum materials.

The nonlinear process of high-order harmonic generation (HHG) in gases is one of the cornerstones of attosecond science (an attosecond is a billionth of a...

Im Focus: Magnetic micro-boats

Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.

The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...

Im Focus: Self-healing coating made of corn starch makes small scratches disappear through heat

Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.

Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...

Im Focus: Stellar cartography

The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.

A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...

Im Focus: Heading towards a tsunami of light

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Modelica Conference with 330 visitors from 21 countries at OTH Regensburg

11.03.2019 | Event News

Selection Completed: 580 Young Scientists from 88 Countries at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

01.03.2019 | Event News

LightMAT 2019 – 3rd International Conference on Light Materials – Science and Technology

28.02.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Solving the efficiency of Gram-negative bacteria

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Bacteria bide their time when antibiotics attack

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Open source software helps researchers extract key insights from huge sensor datasets

22.03.2019 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>