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

" says Ryan Philippe, a postdoctoral researcher in Noel's lab.

Micheline Ngaki, a graduate student in Wurtele's lab, says that if the researchers can understand precisely what role the proteins play in seed oil production, they might be able to modify the proteins' activity in new plant strains to produce more oil or higher quality oil than current crops.

The researchers' findings also have implications for evolutionary biology and how large and essential families of enzymes arise from nonenzymatic cousins and are then perfected by evolution.

The ancient ancestors of the proteins the research teams discovered evolved into the enzyme chalcone isomerase, which plays a key role in the production of a group of polyphenols known as flavonoids, compounds that serve a number of functions in plants and are critical for disease prevention in human diets.

"One function of flavonoids is to protect plants from sunlight, which would have been key when plants first emerged from the oceans and lakes to colonize land," says Noel. "We've shown that the very ancient FAP proteins still found in algae and other non-plant organisms acquired chalcone isomerase activity hundreds of millions of years ago, allowing land plants to produce flavonoids for survival in the absence of the protective environment of water."

The discovery may also help bioengineers focused on creating new enzymes for industrial uses by revealing how nature evolves proteins into chemical machines known as enzymes.

"Nature has been perfecting enzymes for at least three billion years because they carry out the hundreds of thousands of chemical reactions in all organisms, and these reactions are needed by us all to survive and prosper," says Noel. "We could learn a lot by understanding that three-billion year old experiment."


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Contact: Andy Hoang
AHoang@salk.edu
619-861-5811
Salk Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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