NTU Singapore scientists genetically engineer plants to yield more vegetable oil
Close up of how NTU researcher Dr Zhu Qiao injects the modified WRI1 protein into the Nicotiana benthamiana plant leaf. Credit: Nanyang Technological University

Scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore have successfully genetically modified a plant that is responsible for oil accumulating in plant seeds and nuts.

The model plant Arabidopsis had 15 to 18% more oil in it's seeds when it was grown with a modifiedProtein.

Farming is trying to find ways to make crops yield more oil. It is difficult to increase the oil content in oil palm, soybean, rapeseed, peanut, and other oil producing crops because they already have a high percentage of oil in their fruit or seeds.

The global market for vegetable oils is expected to increase to US$ 324.1 billion by the end of the decade. Increasing the yield of oil from plants could help the world in its quest for sustainable development.

One of the secrets to helping plants store more oil in their seeds is one of their genes. Scientists have known for over two decades that WRI1 is involved in controlling seed oil production.

For the first time, a high-resolution structure ofWRI1 has been imaged and reported by the NTU team.

The team published their research in the journal Science Advances.

The team modified WRI1 to increase its affinity for DNA in order to increase oil yield. Several forms of WRI1 were produced as a result of the modifications that were made to some parts of the book.

The candidateWRI1s were then tested to see if they could turn plant cells into oil production machines. The modified versions of WRI1 increased the amount of DNA binding ten-fold compared to the original version, which resulted in more oil in its seeds.

It's an association The key to understanding the entire process was being able to see exactly what WRI1 looks like. The plant is told how much oil to keep in its seeds by theWRI1 After we were able to see the lock, we created the key that could open the door.

Modification of WRI 1 works.

The team found that the crystal structure of theWRI1Protein and the double helix DNA strands to which it bind was extensively conserved. It could be a common binding mechanism for a lot of plant species.

The team used the crystal structure of WRI1 as a target and looked to modify it to enhance its binding affinity. After the instructions for coding this modifiedWRI1 are introduced into the target plant cells, the plant will use the new instructions whenever it producesWRI1.

An analysis of triacylglycerol was carried out in the lab to observe how the modifiedWRI1 affects oil accumulation. Compared to the control plant, the modifiedWRI1 produced more spikes in triacylglycerol production.

The modified seeds contained more oil than the original seeds. The offspring of this genetically modified plant will be able to produce more oil in their seeds because they have the same modifiedWRI1Protein.

It was a logical move for the team to modify WRI1 to improve its binding to DNA.

The accumulation of oils in the seeds is regulated by a specific chain of instructions that are set off by a plant'sWRI1Protein. The stronger the binding, the more oil will be concentrated in the seeds. It was decided to improve the portion of WRI1 that binding to its target DNA. Being highly conserved means many species of plants have the same mechanism that can be modified, so we should be able to translate our oil-yielding modification to many different types of crops in the future.

Plant seed oil is used in many important industrial applications." Global demand for plant oil is increasing very quickly and our research contributes to efforts to improve seed oil production in a sustainable manner.

The team has filed a patent for their method of gene modification through the University's innovation and enterprise office and is looking for industry partners to monetize their invention.

The research is aligned with the NTU2025 strategic plan and the University's sustainable future plan.

Professor William Chen, Director of Food Science & Technology Program at NTU, said there are a few ways to tackle world hunger, including by increasing the amount of food produced.

If we want to tackle world hunger, advanced technologies to grow more food with higher nutrition value is required. Prof. Chen is a food security expert who was not involved in the study

Instead of growing more crops to feed more people, we should look at methods where the crops have more calories and nutrition so that the same amount of food can feed more people.

There is more information on the basis of the key regulators in plant oil. There is a book titled "Sci Adv.abq1211."

Journal information: Science Advances

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