Castor beans. Click the image for more
information about it.
New Secret to Castor Bean's Awesome Oil Revealed
By Marcia Wood
November 18, 2005
Castor plants, source of one of the
world's best industrial oils, are gradually revealing the secrets of how they
make this prized substance. Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service
(ARS) in Albany, Calif., are delving
into the mostly-mysterious mechanisms.
Castor oil is unique and is valued as a lubricant for heavy machinery, or
for making greases, pharmaceuticals, paints and more.
The researchers' probing has revealed, for the first time, the starring role
that a gene called RcDGAT may play in directing the castor plant to put
the oil's most important component, known as ricinoleate, into it.
Ricinoleate is safe and free of ricin, the castor bean plants' natural
toxin. The word "ricin" in the name "ricinoleate" stems
from the plant's scientific name, Ricinus communis.
ARS research chemist
A. McKeon did the work at the ARS
Regional Research Center in Albany along with research chemist
Lin and ARS research associate and molecular biologist
The scientists filed a patent application for the gene last year. Right now,
the researchers are continuing to slip the newly identified gene into yeasts in
laboratory experiments that will determine more about how to harness
RcDGAT's oil-making prowess.
The idea of producing castor's superior oil in some other plant--one that's
safe and easy to grow in the United States--isn't new. But RcDGAT will
likely be more important in performing that biochemical feat than other
The United States imports about $50 million worth of castor oil every year,
primarily from India and mainly for industrial uses.
Dow Chemical Co. of Midland, Mich.,
provided some of the funding through a research and development agreement with
ARS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
chief scientific research agency.