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Research promises healthier vegetable oil -- and tractor fuel to harvest it
Date:5/20/2010

EAST LANSING, Mich. --- Genetic discoveries from a shrub called the burning bush, known for its brilliant red fall foliage, could fire new advances in biofuels and low-calorie food oils, according to Michigan State University scientists.

New low-cost DNA sequencing technology applied to seeds of the species Euonymus alatus -- a common ornamental planting -- was crucial to identifying the gene responsible for its manufacture of a novel, high-quality oil. But despite its name, the burning bush is not a suitable oil crop.

Yet inserted into the mustard weed well-known to researchers as Arabidopsis and a cousin to commercial oilseed canola -- the burning bush gene encodes an enzyme that produces a substantial yield of unusual compounds called acetyl glycerides, or acTAGs. Related vegetable oils are the basis of the world's oilseed industry for the food and biofuels markets, but the oil produced by the burning bush enzyme claims unique and valuable characteristics.

One is its lower viscosity, or thickness.

"The high viscosity of most plant oils prevents their direct use in diesel engines, so the oil must be converted to biodiesel," explained Timothy Durrett, an MSU plant biology research associate. "We demonstrated that acTAGs possess lower viscosity than regular plant oils. The lower viscosity acTAGs could therefore be useful as a direct-use biofuel for many diesel engines."

Improved low-temperature characteristics noted for the oil also could make it suitable for diesel fuel, he said. And acTAGs boast lower calorie content than other vegetable oils, Durrett added, "thus they could be used as a reduced-calorie food oil substitute."

With University Distinguished Professor of plant biology John Ohlrogge, visiting professor of plant biology Michael Pollard and other MSU researchers, Durrett published the findings in the May 18 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Contact: Mark Fellows
mark.fellows@ur.msu.edu
517-884-0166
Michigan State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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