Finding ways to make crops produce more oil in their seeds is a holy grail for the agricultural industry. However, most oilseed crops, such as palm, soybean, sunflower, rapeseed, and peanut, already have a high percentage of oil in their fruits or seeds, and it is difficult to increase the oil content using traditional crop crossing methods.
15-18% more oil content
Scientists at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU) have genetically modified a plant protein that is responsible for the accumulation of oil in plant seeds and nuts. The method allows to increase the oil content by 15-18% according to ScienceDaily.
Vegetable oils are in demand in the food industry for the production of biofuels, soaps and perfumes. The growth of the global oils market is expected to increase from $241.1 billion in 2021 to $324.1 billion in 2027.
The secret that helps plants store more oil in their seeds lies in one of their proteins called WRINKLED1 (WRI1). Scientists have known for more than two decades that WRI1 plays an important role in controlling plant oil production.
Scientists found out that WRI1 protein is responsible for the accumulation of oil in seeds and nuts, but for a long time could not consider its structure in detail.
Lock and Key
“Being able to see exactly what WRI1 looks like and how it binds to the DNA responsible for oil production in the plant was key to understanding the whole process. WRI1 is an important regulator that tells the plant how much oil to store in its seeds. Once we were able to visualize the ‘lock’, we developed a ‘key’ that can unlock the potential of WRI1,” explained structural biologist Gao Yongyi.
The discovery will increase the production of vegetable oils and reduce the need to use agricultural land.
To tackle world hunger
“In a world that has limited arable land for agriculture, advanced technologies are needed to grow more food with higher nutritional value if we hope to tackle world hunger. When we can increase the fat content of edible seeds and nuts, a person can eat smaller amounts but still feel full because of the increased calorie intake,” said Professor Chen, a food safety expert who was not involved in the study.
Moving forward, the team has applied for a patent for their gene modification method through NTUitive, the University’s innovation and enterprise department, and is seeking industry partners to commercialize their invention.
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