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Discovery of plant proteins may boost agricultural yields and biofuel production
Date:5/14/2012

fuels. With growing concerns about global climate change and petroleum security, producing biofuels for use in transportation and energy generation is a burgeoning industry.

To help address this demand, scientists are unlocking the molecular pathways involved in seed oil metabolism in hopes of finding ways to boost capacity and quality.

In their study, Noel and his collaborators identified three promising genes through analysis of plant genomic data, and then used a variety of techniques, including protein x-ray crystallography, computational biology, biochemistry, mutant plant analysis, metabolomics and gene expression profiling, to functionally characterize the proteins these genes produce.

They found that the proteins, FAP1, FAP2 and FAP3, bind fatty acids, including the major plant omega-3 fatty acid, an important nutritional component found in certain seeds. "They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is certainly the case for these FAPs," says Gordon Louie, an HHMI researcher in Noel's laboratory, who determined the three-dimensional arrangement of the FAPs holding on to their fatty acid cargo.

The proteins were found in the chloroplasts, the site of fatty acid production and photosynthesis. This suggested that these proteins play a role in the metabolism of fatty acids and thus in the production of fatty acids for plant membranes and oils.

This hypothesis was reinforced by showing that the FAP genes are most active in developing seeds, appearing at the same time and location as well-known enzymes involved in fatty acid synthesis. The researchers also found that altering the expression of these genes in a plant leads to changes in the quality and amounts of fatty acids.

"The proteins appear to be crucial missing links in the metabolism of fatty acids in Arabidopsis, and likely serve a similar function in other plant species since we find the same genes spread throughout the plant kingdom,
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Contact: Andy Hoang
AHoang@salk.edu
619-861-5811
Salk Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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