LA JOLLA, CA ---- 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 bio
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