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Modeling plant metabolism to optimize oil production
Date:7/26/2011

Brookhaven team constructed a computational model of a large-scale metabolic network of developing rapeseed (Brassica napus) embryos, based on information mined from biochemical literature, databases, and prior experimental results that set limits on certain variables. The model includes 572 biochemical reactions that play a role in the seed's central metabolism and/or seed oil production, and incorporates information on how those reactions are grouped together and interact.

The scientists first tested the validity of the model by comparing it to experimental results from carbon-tracing studies for a relatively simple reaction network - the big-picture view of the metabolic pathways analogous to the traffic on U.S. highways. At that big-picture level, results from the two methods were largely consistent, providing validation for both the computer model and the experimental technique, while identifying a few exceptions that merit further exploration.

The scientists then used the model to simulate more complicated metabolic processes under varying conditions - for example, changes in oil production or the formation of oil precursors in response to changes in available nutrients (such as different sources of carbon and nitrogen), light conditions, and other variables.

"This large-scale model is a much more realistic network, like a map that represents almost every street," Schwender said, "with computational simulations to predict what's going on." Continuing the traffic analogy, he said, "We can now try to simulate the effect of 'road blocks' or where to add new roads to most effectively eliminate traffic congestion."

The model also allows the researchers to assess the potential effects of genetic modifications (for example, inactivating particular genes that play a role in plant metabolism) in a simulated environment. These simulated "knock-out" experiments gave detailed insights into the potential function of alternative m
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Contact: Karen McNulty Walsh
kmcnulty@bnl.gov
631-344-8350
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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