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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Maricopa, Arizona » U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center » Plant Physiology and Genetics Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #222305

Title: High value oils from plants.

item Dyer, John

Submitted to: Plant Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/4/2008
Publication Date: 7/1/2008
Citation: Dyer, J.M., Stymn, S., Green, A.G., Carlsson, A.S. (2008) High value oils from plants. Plant Journal, (54):640-655.

Interpretive Summary: One of the greatest challenges facing modern society is the development of renewable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly sources of fuel and raw materials for industry. These commodities have typically been derived from nonrenewable fossil oil, and in light of increased demand for oil, rising costs, and the need to develop a domestically secure source of these strategically important materials, there is a clear and present need to develop alternatives to petroleum-derived feedstocks. Plants are outstanding “biofactories” that are capable of producing both fuels and raw materials for industry, and there is a significant amount of research going on world-wide to develop plants that are tailored for the production of high value fuels and feedstocks. While the seed oils of plants can be used directly for the production of liquid fuels such as “biodiesel”, the oils also have great potential for usage as feedstocks or raw materials for the petrochemical industry. These oils can be used for production of a variety of high value products such as motor oil lubricants, inks, dyes, coatings, resins, and plastics. In addition to the vegetable oils derived from traditional oilseed crops, there are many different types oils that exist in the seeds of wild plant species, and some of these oils have unique properties that would be very useful for industrial application. This manuscript provides an overview of our current understanding of oil production in both traditional oilseed crops (such as cottonseed, soybean, canola, etc.), as well as those wild plants that produce industrially important oils in their seeds (such as castor bean). We then describe attempts to transfer appropriate genes from the wild plants to more traditional oilseed crops (particularly non-food crops) to produce high amounts of these industrially important oils, and highlight those areas where additional research is needed to further increase oil yields. Successful production of high value industrial oils in plants represents an important step in our transition from a crude oil-based society to a more sustainable, biobased economy and will provide new opportunities to agricultural producers and more environmentally friendly sources of raw materials to industry.

Technical Abstract: The seed oils of domesticated oilseed crops are major agricultural commodities that are used primarily for nutritional applications, but in recent years, there is increasing opportunity to use these oils for production of biofuels and chemical feedstocks. This is being driven in part by the rapidly rising costs of petroleum, increased concern about the environmental impact of using fossil oil, and the need to develop renewable, domestic sources of fuel and industrial raw materials. There is also a clear and present need to develop sustainable sources of nutritionally important fatty acids such as those that are typically derived from fish oil. Thus, plant oils can provide renewable sources of high value fatty acids for both the chemical and health-related industries. The value and application of an oil is determined largely by its fatty acid composition, and while most vegetable oils contain just five basic fatty acid structures, there is a rich diversity of fatty acids present in nature, many of which have potential usage in industry. In this review, we describe several areas where plant oils can have a significant impact on the emerging bioeconomy and the types of fatty acids that are required in these various applications. We also outline the current understanding of the underlying biochemical and molecular mechanisms of seed oil production and the challenges and potential of translating this knowledge into the rational design and engineering of crop plants to produce high value oils in plant seeds.