MSU researchers identify new enzyme to boost oil yield in crops

By Michigan State University | August 11, 2017

In a recent study published in the journal The Plant Cell, researchers at Michigan State University demonstrate that the chloroplast—where plant photosynthesis occurs—also participates in new ways to provide seed oil precursors.

The scientists identified a new enzyme, PLIP1—or Plastid Lipade 1—that interacts with lipids inside the chloroplast.

“The enzyme breaks down lipids that make up the chloroplast’s internal membranes—the thylakoids, to be precise,” said Kun Wang, a graduate student in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology and researcher at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory. “The use and recycling of lipids keeps chloroplast membranes adjusted to developmental or environmental changes.”

Leftover lipid products are then transported to the endoplasmic reticulum, a massive cellular factory, where they become building blocks for seed oil.

Previously, it was thought that seed oil production is largely based in the endoplasmic reticulum.

“Now, we are finding that the chloroplast is responsible for 10 percent of seed oil precursors,”
 Wang said. “That might seem like a low number. However, seed oil comes from many sources, and the main one is responsible for 20 to 40 percent of final product. So, 10 percent is significant.”

Wang wants to increase the level of PLIP1 in biofuel-targeted plants so they produce more oil.

“One advantage with PLIP1 is that it is found in most land plants, which makes it easy to experiment on different species,” Wang said.

Initial testing has unexpectedly led to a smaller plant with more oil per seed but fewer seeds, and higher defense activity.

“It seems oil production and plant defense functions don’t coexist well,” Wang explained. “We have a few ideas to bypass this limitation, and we’ve already filled out a patent application to try a new strategy to increase seed oil yield, using PLIP1.”

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