“We investigated novel strategies to sustainability produce high-value terpenoid biomaterials in plants.”
Researchers from Michigan State University have developed synthetic biology tools to co-produce high-value compounds in plants, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.
Terpenoids from the largest class of natural products in plants have been used by humans for thousands of years, according to the US researchers. Modern applications for terpenoids range wide, from pharmaceuticals, fragrances, nutraceuticals, bio-pesticides to chemical feedstocks.
However, in the context of industrial scale production, plant accumulations of terpenoids is rather low. And, in the pursuit to extract natural terpenoids, some wild plant species have even become endangered Michigan State University (@michiganstateu)researchers said.
Radin Sadre, Synthetic Biologist/Biochemist in the Department of Horticulture, said: “We investigated novel strategies to sustainability produce high-value terpenoid biomaterials in plants.”
Sadre is the lead author of the study conceived by Christoph Benning, MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory director and Bjoern Hamberger, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
The new synthetic biology tools allow to produce both terpenoids and oil, a biofuel resource, in plant leaves, the researchers said. Plants do not normally accumulate large amounts of oil in leaves.
Benning’s work on plant oils and lipids served as a basis to enhance the oil content in leaves. The oil is stored in plant cells in small lipid droplets that are surrounded by a lipid layer coated with proteins.
The study shows that expand iconlipid droplets can themselves serve as an engineering platform for terpenoid production. The Hamberger lab focuses on metabolic engineering of terpenoids biosynthetic pathways.
Normally, terpenoid biosynthesis occurs at specific sites within the plant cells. The synthetic biology approaches retarget and boost the production of the terpenoid building blocks and terpenoids in engineered plants.
“We used lipid droplet surface expand icon protein from a microalga to anchor different terpenoid synthesis expand iconenzymes onto the surface of the plant lipid droplets,” Sadre said. “Targeting of distinct terpenoid synthesis steps to the lipid droplets leads to efficient production of terpenoids.”
These experiments were done at laboratory scale in the tobacco relative, Nicotiana benthamiana. The ultimate goal is the production of industrially relevant terpenoids in high-yield biomass crops, such as switchgrass.
Another feature of this system is that the terpenoids are trapped in the lipid droplets. This finding may prove useful in the future for industrial processing of engineered biomass crops.
“Once we break open the plant cells in the lab, we can easily collect the lipid droplets – basically, oil – with the terpenoids simultaneously,” Sadre said. “I can see many applications where both can be used together, for example, certain ‘essential oils’ in perfumes or speciality biofuels. Alternatively, further processing can separate terpenoids from the oil for applications where purer compounds are required.”
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