Engineered tobacco plants have more potential as a biofuel

December 31, 2009

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 Biotechnology Journal.

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 . However, most of the oil is typically found in the seeds - tobacco seeds are composed of about 40 percent oil per dry weight.

Although the seed oil has been tested for use as fuel for , tobacco 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 oil.

"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 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. Andrianov said.

Explore further: Discovery of plant protein holds promise for biofuel production

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2 / 5 (1) Dec 31, 2009
Using land that would otherwise grow foodstuffs, to grow crops for fuel, is shortsighted beyond reason. We (the World) already have enough starving people.

Drill here, drill now. Or build 100 1GW fission plants, or bulldoze West Virginia flat; but lose the food to alcohol paradigm.
not rated yet Dec 31, 2009
Using land that would otherwise grow foodstuffs, to grow crops for fuel, is shortsighted beyond reason. We (the World) already have enough starving people.

Drill here, drill now. Or build 100 1GW fission plants, or bulldoze West Virginia flat; but lose the food to alcohol paradigm.

I couldn't agree more.The future of energy (and food)production is likely with closed loop bioreactors.See:
4 / 5 (2) Dec 31, 2009
I also think that growing plants for fuel is very shortsighted. No matter how the pants are engineered, 90-99% or more of the energy from the sun is spent creating the plant itself.

If instead, we used plant material for their carbon atoms, and stored energy in them using solar/nuclear/wind energy using a biomass + energy -> CO/H2 stream -> synfuel, we could power cars using a carbon neutral scheme that doesn't affect our existing infrastructure or car engine design.

In other words, just take the carbon, using energy to add hydrogen, then burn the liquefied result in our cars, trucks, and to power industry. We get the efficiencies inherent in large stable power generation, without having to change several trillion dollars in sunk costs for gas stations, etc.

Every atom of carbon burned as CO2 is absorbed as plant material to make the fuel so this is a closed cycle.
not rated yet Dec 31, 2009
Actually, the reason farmers in USA grow tobacco is because they are under great economic strain, and growing stuff for the cigarrette industry is one of the few ways to make ends meet. If they could grow GM tobacco for fuel instead of unmodified tobacco's nicotine and get at least the same price, USA could switch an unhealthy crop for a morally unambiguous one :-)
4 / 5 (1) Jan 02, 2010
@Shootist/Newbeak, with all due respect, I disagree.

Tobacco is a non-food-producing plant and is - and has always been - grown on non-food-producing land.

I agree with you that changing from food-production to non-food-production (for example, corn grown for food is then grown for fuel) is not only unethical but, in the long term, uneconomic.

The problem is not that there isn't enough food, but that the economics of food production results in countries, which produce most of it, tending to dump what they can't sell down the drain to keep prices at home high (the "food mountain" issue).

Also, poorer countries (such as those in Africa) can't compete with richer countries (America and Europe) due to tariffs which are loaded against "foreign imports".


Until the economic issues relating to fair trade are addressed, there will continue to be such issues as starvation in the world.

Kindest regards,

not rated yet Jan 03, 2010
Africa is not a country, it is a continent. America and Europe are, also. Some countries in some continents are richer than others just as some cities, counties and other political divisions are richer than others. The shortage of food in some political divisions is political, based on economics which create the political problems which create the food shortages. Therefore the problem is political. Politics creates problems, it does not solve them.

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