Smoothing out the wrinkles in oil production

More than just a staple in our diet, oils from food crops—such as soybean, sunflower, canola and palm—are important for the industrial production of lubricants, plastics, detergents and biodiesel.

Asst Prof Ma Wei, a plant biologist at NTU’s School of Biological Sciences, discovered that a group of regulatory proteins named 14-3-3s helps to stabilise a master gene regulator of plant oil biosynthesis called WRINKLED1.

Manipulating the expression of WRINKLED1—aptly named because the gene’s mutation results in wrinkled seeds that produce very little oil—led to enhanced production of oil not only in the seeds, but also in the leaves and stems of some plants.

“Meeting the global demand for vegetable oils, which is predicted to double by 2030, will require a large boost in oil production using multiple oil-producing plants,” says Asst Prof Ma Wei.

The articles “WRINKLED1 as a novel 14-3-3 client: function of 14-3-3 proteins in plant lipid metabolism” and “WRINKLED1 transcription factor: How much do we know about its regulatory mechanism?” were published in Plant Signaling & Behavior (2018), DOI: 10.1080/15592324.2018.1482176, and Plant Science (2018), DOI: 10.1016/j.plantsci.2018.04.013, respectively. The research was also featured in Chemical & Engineering News (2018), Vol. 96 (47), Science Trends (2018) and an NTU news release.
The story appeared first in NTU’s research & innovation magazine Pushing Frontiers (issue #15, June 2019).

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