Plant protein discovery could boost bioeconomy
click image to zoomEve Syrkin Wurtele and Micheline NgakiThe blue areas in this thale cress plant indicate where the fatty-acid-binding protein one gene is expressed, according to Iowa State researchers. The blue areas also correspond to regions where high fatty acids would be synthesized by the plant. Research groups from Iowa State University and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have uncovered the function of three plant proteins, a discovery that could help plant scientists boost seed oil production in crops, thereby benefitting the production of food, biorenewable chemicals and biofuels.
The analysis of gene activity (by the Iowa group) and determination of protein structures (by the Salk group) independently identified in the model plant thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) three related proteins that appear to be involved in fatty-acid metabolism. The Iowa and Salk researchers then joined forces to test this hypothesis, demonstrating a role of these proteins in regulating the amounts and types of fatty acids accumulated in plants. The researchers also showed that the action of the proteins is very sensitive to temperature and that this feature may play an important role in how plants mitigate temperature stress using fatty acids.
The discovery is published online at nature.com, the website of the journal Nature. Corresponding authors are Eve Syrkin Wurtele, a professor of genetics, development and cell biology at Iowa State; and Joseph Noel, a professor and director of the Jack H. Skirball Center for Chemical Biology and Proteomics at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
"This work has major implications for modulating the fatty-acid profiles in plants, which is terribly important, not only to sustainable food production and nutrition but now also to biorenewable chemicals and fuels," Noel said.
"Because very high-energy molecules such as fatty acids are created in the plant using the energy of the sun, these types of molecules may ultimately provide the most cost-effective and efficient sources for biorenewable products," Wurtele added.
Although the researchers now understand that the three proteins - dubbed fatty-acid-binding proteins one, two and three, or FAP1, FAP2 and FAP3 - are involved in fatty-acid accumulation in plant tissues such as leaves and seeds, Wurtele said researchers still don't understand the physical mechanism these proteins employ at the molecular level. That knowledge will ultimately allow the two collaborating research groups to predictably engineer better functions in plants.