2011 Annual Report
1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
Many plant species produce high amounts of industrially important fatty acids (e.g., hydroxy fatty acids) in their seeds, but the plants generally lack agronomic traits that permit these oils to be produced on a large scale for industrial utilization. The objective of this research program is to discover the genetic basis for the production of these high-value oils and use these genes for production of the oils in robust, non-food crop platforms. Cotton is exceptionally well positioned to serve as a platform for production of high value oils because the main economic driver for this crop is cotton fiber. The seed is generally viewed as a lower valued by-product, and raising the value of the seed through production of industrially important oils would increase farm gate value of the crop and provide society with renewable, sustainable sources of oil that are otherwise obtained from non-renewable petroleum. In addition, high-risk/high-payoff research will be conducted to determine if industrial oils can be produced in vegetative (e.g., leaves and stems) parts of plants. The rationale is that vegetative plant biomass is significantly greater than seed tissues, and by developing methods to produce oil ectopically in leaves and stems, the amount of oil obtained per hectare of land can be substantially increased.
1b.Approach (from AD-416)
Various species and hybrids of Lesquerella will be analyzed to identify genes involved in the production of hydroxy fatty acids. Enzyme functionality will be investigated by expression in yeast cells, and cellular properties will be evaluated through expression in plant cell culture. Candidate enzymes will be expressed in transgenic Arabidopsis, including both developing seed and leaf tissues. Enzyme stability and regulation (primarily by temperature) will be investigated using western blotting and half-life studies. Select genes will be expressed in transgenic cottonseed to evaluate this crop as a platform for production of industrially important oils. Production of hydroxy fatty acids in non-seed tissues will be evaluated in various wild-type and mutant Arabidopsis plants.
Work conducted during this year focused primarily on understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms involved in the production of oils in the leaves of plants. The end-goal is to develop novel strategies for producing and delivering high amounts of industrially important oils in plants, which is similar to the overall objectives of the parent CRIS project. In collaboration with scientists at UNT, a gene called CGI58 was identified recently that, when mutated, results in a substantial increase in the amount of oil produced in plant leaves. Research was conducted to identify other proteins in plant cells that interacted with the CGI58 protein. The premise for doing these experiments is that if two proteins interact, they are often involved in the same underlying molecular process. Using this experimental approach, 12 different proteins were identified that interacted with CGI58, and experiments are ongoing to determine how these proteins work together with cgi58 to regulate the amount of oil present in plant leaves. The lead scientist monitored progress on this agreement by directly supervising the reaearch activities of a post doctoral fellow who is vising his lab, and has regular teleconferences and email exchanges with scientists at the University of North Texas to monitor overall progress of the research program.