In collaboration with the CSIRO Agriculture and Food business unit, we apply advanced metabolic engineering techniques to add value to industrial crops.

The challenge

Investigating the possible diversion of carbon

There is significant and growing interest in diverting some of the carbon stored in starch-rich organs (leaves, tubers, and cereal grains) into lipids in order to improve the energy density or nutritional properties of crops as well as providing new sources of feedstocks for food and manufacturing.

Research by CSIRO now makes it possible to produce oil in the leaves and stems of plants as well as the seeds which promises to be a game changer in the global production of renewable oils.

Additionally, while oilseed‐like triacylglycerol levels have been engineered in the C3 model plant tobacco, progress in C4 monocot crops has been lagging behind.

Our response

Testing of crops

We have investigated how oil accumulation affects the nutritional and processing properties of high oil potatoes with a particular focus on starch structure, physical and chemical properties.

We have also expressed genes from corn, a soil fungus and sesame in sorghum in efforts to increase its economic and calorific value as an industrial crop.

The results

Assessing results in various crops

In potato, overall, oil accumulation was correlated with increased energy density, total nitrogen, amino acids, organic acids and inorganic phosphate, which could be of potential nutritional benefit. However, triacylglycerol accumulation had negative effects on starch quality as well as quantity.

Further work is underway to investigate this apparent trade-off. In sorghum, we achieved the accumulation of triacylglycerol in sorghum leaf tissues to levels between 3 and 8.4% on a dry weight basis depending on leaf and plant developmental stage. Increased oil content was visible as lipid droplets, primarily in the leaf mesophyll cells.

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