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(PHILADELPHIA) Researchers from the Biotechnology Foundation
Laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University have identified a way to
increase the oil in tobacco plant leaves, which may be the next step in
using the plants for biofuel. Their paper was published online in Plant
According to Vyacheslav Andrianov, Ph.D., assistant professor of
Cancer Biology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson
University, tobacco can generate biofuel more efficiently than other
agricultural crops. However, most of the oil is typically found in the
seeds – tobacco seeds are composed of about 40 percent oil per dry
Although the seed oil has been tested for use as fuel for diesel
engines, tobacco plants yield a modest amount of seeds, at only about
600 kg of seeds per acre. Dr. Andrianov and his colleagues sought to
find ways to engineer tobacco plants, so that their leaves expressed the
"Tobacco is very attractive as a biofuel because the idea is to use
plants that aren't used in food production," Dr. Andrianov said. "We
have found ways to genetically engineer the plants so that their leaves
express more oil. In some instances, the modified plants produced
20-fold more oil in the leaves."
Typical tobacco plant leaves contain 1.7 percent to 4 percent of oil
per dry weight. The plants were engineered to overexpress one of two
genes: the diacyglycerol acytransferase (DGAT) gene or the LEAFY
COTYLEDON 2 (LEC2) gene. The DGAT gene modification led to about 5.8
percent of oil per dry weight in the leaves, which about two-fold the
amount of oil produced normally. The LEC2 gene modification led to 6.8
percent of oil per dry weight.
"Based on these data, tobacco represents an attractive and promising
'energy plant' platform, and could also serve as a model for the
utilization of other high-biomass plants for biofuel production," Dr.
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