A study conducted by scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) showed that genetically engineered plants yielded more vegetable oil.
Based on the results of the study, model plant Arabidopsis accumulated 15 to 18 percent more oil in its seeds when it was grown with the modified protein under laboratory conditions.
The study, which was published at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), said finding ways to make crops yield more oil in their seeds is a holy grail for the farming industry.
"However, most oil-producing crops — such as oil palm, soybean, sunflower, rapeseed, peanut — already have a high percentage of oil in their fruit or seed, and it is hard to increase their oil content through traditional crop crossbreeding methods," the report said.
"Increasing the yield of oil from plants could also help the world in its quest for sustainability, helping to reduce the amount of arable land needed for oil-yielding crops," the report added.
The NTU team was jointly led by associate professor Gao Yonggui and assistant professor Ma Wei from the School of Biological Sciences.
Published in the scientific journal Science Advances, the team detailed the molecular structure of Wrinkled1 (WRI1) and how it binds to plant DNA — which signals to the plant how much oil to accumulate in its seeds.
"Being able to see exactly what WRI1 looks like and how it binds to DNA that is responsible for oil production in the plant was the key to understanding the entire process. WRI1 is an essential regulator that informs the plant how much oil to store in its seeds. Once we were able to visualize the 'lock,' we then engineered the 'key' that can unlock the potential of WRI1," Gao said.
"Plant seed oil is vital for the human diet, and is used in many important industrial applications. Global demand for plant oil is increasing very quickly and our research contributes to efforts to improve seed oil production in a sustainable manner, and potentially reducing the environmental impact of agriculture," Ma added.