A Kansas State University biochemistry professor has reached a milestone in building a better biofuel: producing high levels of lipids with modified properties in oil seeds.
Timothy Durrett, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, and collaborators at Michigan State University and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln have modified Camelina sativa — a nonfood oilseed crop — and produced the highest levels of modified seed lipids to date. By modifying the oilseed biochemistry in Camelina sativa, the researchers have achieved very high levels of an oil with reduced viscosity and improved cold temperature characteristics.
The goal of the research is to alter oilseeds to produce large amounts of modified oil that can be used as improved biofuels or even industrial and food-related applications. The research recently appeared in the journal Industrial Crops and Products and on the front cover of the Plant Biotechnology Journal.
Reducing our dependence on fossil fuel-derived carbon is always good. By using alternative sources of fuel is the obvious way to reduce our dependence. But even other applications, such as using it for lubricants or as feedstocks for the chemical industry, would help reduce our dependence on fossil-derived carbon.
Camelina can grow on poorer quality farmland, needs little irrigation or fertilizer, and produces seeds that can provide gallons of oil. It also can be rotated with wheat and could become a biofuel crop for semi-arid regions. This research located at western Kansas and Colorado.
The camelina genome was recently sequenced, which has greatly helped researchers as they improve camelina’s oil properties to produce low-viscosity oil — the kind of oil needed for biofuel. By modifying the oilseed biochemistry in camelina, the researchers were able to get very high levels of the modified oil, which are called acetyl-TAGS. In the best camelina lines, about 85 percent of the oil was comprised of the modified acetyl-TAGs.
One of the team’s goals is to make commercial products using oils from the engineered plants. The researchers are analyzing these oils because their acetyl-TAGs possess unusual structures and have high value-added properties.
Why camelina? The basic problem is that most of our oilseed crops — such as canola or soybean — produce just a few fatty acids because we use them for nutritional needs. That’s great for a source of food, but makes doing any sort of chemistry more complicated.
The researchers think that camelina producing acetyl-TAGs is a renewable resource with potential industrial uses, including plasticizers, biodegradable lubricants and food emulsifiers.
The food industry uses similar compounds already. The next step to do is first of all see if camelina’s oil is safe and can match those specifications. Probably one of the most valuable parts of this research is that it can generate meaningful data sets because of the oil’s properties and learn more about the oil itself and what it can do.
- Jinjie Liu, Adam Rice, Kathleen McGlew, Vincent Shaw, Hyunwoo Park, Tom Clemente, Mike Pollard, John Ohlrogge, Timothy P. Durrett. Metabolic engineering of oilseed crops to produce high levels of novel acetyl glyceride oils with reduced viscosity, freezing point and calorific value. Plant Biotechnology Journal, 2015; 13 (6): 858 DOI: 10.1111/pbi.12325
- Jinjie Liu, Henrik Tjellström, Kathleen McGlew, Vincent Shaw, Adam Rice, Jeffrey Simpson, Dylan Kosma, Wei Ma, Weili Yang, Merissa Strawsine, Edgar Cahoon, Timothy P. Durrett, John Ohlrogge. Field production, purification and analysis of high-oleic acetyl-triacylglycerols from transgenic Camelina sativa. Industrial Crops and Products, 2015; 65: 259 DOI: 10.1016/j.indcrop.2014.11.019