A new development using genes from algae to engineer plants to store oils in their leaves could lead to improvements in both biofuel production and the manufacture of animal feed. Researchers from Michigan State University have made plants with oily leaves, which were demonstrated when worms fed these leaves grew fatter than worms fed the unmodified version of the plants.
Most plant oils are stored in the seeds of the plant, and can be difficult to extract. But plants that store oils in their stems and leaves can be more easily processed to extract those oils. They also may produce greater quantities of oil than the original plants.
In addition to the potential use in biofuels, producing plants that store more oils in their leaves could also be a benefit for animal feed. Greater nutrition density from the same amount of crop could help feed more animals from the same area of cropland.
The lead scientist, MSU professor of biochemistry and molecular biology Christoph Benning, stated, "Many researchers are trying to enhance plants’ energy density, and this is another way of approaching it. It’s a proof-of-concept that could be used to boost plants’ oil production for biofuel use as well as improve the nutrition levels of animal feed."
Ongoing research will next move from demonstration of the concept to begin to explore specific applications "to enhance oil production in grasses and algae that have economic value."
image: by Rosendahl/Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain