Research promises healthier vegetable oil -- and tractor fuel to harvest it

May 20, 2010
Developing fruit of Euonymus alatus, or burning bush. The white seed endosperm produces novel acetyl triacylglycerols, or acTAGs, while the orange aril tissue around the seed produces normal vegetable oil. Photo courtesy of Timothy Durrett, MSU

(PhysOrg.com) -- Genetic discoveries from a shrub called the burning bush, known for its brilliant red fall foliage, could fire new advances in biofuels and low-calorie food oils, according to Michigan State University scientists.

New low-cost DNA sequencing technology applied to seeds of the species Euonymus alatus - a common ornamental planting - was crucial to identifying the gene responsible for its manufacture of a novel, high-quality oil. But despite its name, the burning bush is not a suitable oil crop.

Yet inserted into the mustard weed - well-known to researchers as Arabidopsis and a cousin to commercial oilseed canola - the burning bush gene encodes an enzyme that produces a substantial yield of unusual compounds called acetyl glycerides, or acTAGs. Related vegetable oils are the basis of the world’s oilseed industry for the food and biofuels markets, but the oil produced by the burning bush enzyme claims unique and valuable characteristics.

One is its lower viscosity, or thickness.

“The high viscosity of most plant oils prevents their direct use in diesel engines, so the oil must be converted to biodiesel,” explained Timothy Durrett, an MSU plant biology research associate. “We demonstrated that acTAGs possess lower viscosity than regular plant oils. The lower viscosity acTAGs could therefore be useful as a direct-use biofuel for many diesel engines.”

Improved low-temperature characteristics noted for the oil also could make it suitable for diesel fuel, he said. And acTAGs boast lower calorie content than other vegetable oils, Durrett added, “thus they could be used as a reduced-calorie food oil substitute.”

With University Distinguished Professor of plant biology John Ohlrogge, visiting professor of Michael Pollard and other MSU researchers, Durrett published the findings in the May 18 issue of .

The burning bush is certainly not a rare species - the team gathered its samples from plantings around MSU’s campus. The researchers now are working to improve the modified seeds’ acTAGs yield and already report purity levels of up to 80 percent.

“It should now be possible to produce acetyl glycerides in transgenic oilseed crops or single cell production systems such as algae that are the focus of much current effort in biofuels research,” said Pollard, who is keen to explore the technology’s commercial potential. “With the basic genetics defined and thus one major technical risk greatly reduced, the way is open to produce and assess this novel in food and nonfood applications.”

Explore further: Parasitic worm genomes: largest-ever dataset released

Related Stories

Engineered tobacco plants have more potential as a biofuel

Dec 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 ...

British government to require biofuels

Nov 07, 2005

The British government will reportedly soon require oil companies to blend a fixed proportion of biofuels into the gasoline and diesel fuel they produce.

More, Better Biodiesel

Feb 19, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Yields of biodiesel from oilseed crops such as safflower could be increased by up to 24 percent using a new process developed by chemists at UC Davis. The method converts both plant oils and ...

Waste coffee grounds offer new source of biodiesel fuel

Dec 10, 2008

Researchers in Nevada are reporting that waste coffee grounds can provide a cheap, abundant, and environmentally friendly source of biodiesel fuel for powering cars and trucks. Their study has been published ...

Recommended for you

Parasitic worm genomes: largest-ever dataset released

12 hours ago

The largest collection of helminth genomic data ever assembled has been published in the new, open-access WormBase-ParaSite. Developed jointly by EMBL-EBI and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, this new ...

Bitter food but good medicine from cucumber genetics

Nov 27, 2014

High-tech genomics and traditional Chinese medicine come together as researchers identify the genes responsible for the intense bitter taste of wild cucumbers. Taming this bitterness made cucumber, pumpkin ...

New button mushroom varieties need better protection

Nov 27, 2014

A working group has recently been formed to work on a better protection of button mushroom varieties. It's activities are firstly directed to generate consensus among the spawn/breeding companies to consider ...

Cataloguing 10 million human gut microbial genes

Nov 25, 2014

Over the past several years, research on bacteria in the digestive tract (gut microbiome) has confirmed the major role they play in our health. An international consortium, in which INRA participates, has developed the most ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ormondotvos
5 / 5 (1) May 20, 2010
Decentralization of liquid fuel sources will make a huge difference in allowing freedom from Big Oil, just like photovoltaic panels allow freedom from Big Electric.

Farming with renewable diesel is a Holy Grail. We used to fuel our salmon boat cooking stoves with salmon fat. Same principle. We could have made biodiesel.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.