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Engineering High Value Oil Production into Biofuel Crops

Sunday, April 19, 2015  
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Engineering High Value Oil Production into Biofuel Crops


Assuming biofuels generated via the fermentation of sugars derived from cellulosic and non-cellulosic constituents of biofuels crops is providing a substantial contribution to our future energy needs, augmenting and amending the productivity of these biofuel crops is now a major research thrust worldwide. One way of enhancing these biofuels crops will be to engineer them for additional value-added components such as oils, that can be used for efficient fuel production and the manufacturing of other high-value products currently derived from petroleum oils. Towards this end, we are engineering optimized production of long, branched-chain hydrocarbon biosynthesis into plants suitable as biofuels crops. Branched chain hydrocarbons, like methylated triterpenes, are readily cracked into paraffins and naphthenes that can either be distilled to combustible fuels (gasoline, jet fuel and diesel), or can be used directly for the synthesis of plastics, nylons, paints and other oil-derived products manufactured by diverse chemical industries. To create a production capacity for specific terpenes of industrial interest, we have pioneered the development of strategies for diverting carbon flow from the native terpene biosynthetic pathways operating in the cytosol and plastid compartments of plants for the generation of specific classes of terpenes. In the current work, we demonstrate how difficult it is to divert the 5-carbon intermediates DMAPP and IPP from the mevalonate pathway operating in the cytoplasm for triterpene biosynthesis, yet diversion of the same intermediates from the methylerythritol phosphate pathway operating in the plastid compartment leads to the accumulation of very high levels of the triterpenes squalene and botryococcene.

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