Project Overview

Plant oils are the major source of highly-reduced carbon available from Nature. The ability to control the chemical structure of this stored carbon represents a vital step towards producing renewable biomaterials that can replace petro-chemicals. The discoveries that result from this project will yield an understanding of the underlying principles of how pathways evolved for the synthesis of novel seed oils. It is our vision that basic knowledge from this project will enable bio-technological design of a new generation of specialty crops that will become the green factories of the future.

This interdisciplinary project aims to make fundamental discoveries about metabolic networks that govern the accumulation of modified fatty acids (mFA), which occur in a wide range of plant species with hundreds of diverse chemical structures. Components of the mFA networks will be identified by integrative approaches including comparative genomics, biochemical-genetic analysis, flux analysis and mathematical modeling in selected mFA-accumulating source species and closely related non-mFA-accumulating plants. Network functions will be evaluated in transgenic seeds with native or improved mFA-synthesizing enzymes by biochemical and proteomic analyses and the mFA network will be optimized based on metabolic modeling. The knowledge gained in this project will guide efforts to engineer high levels of economically important mFA in transgenic crops.


Cotton seeds synthesize cyclopropane FA (CpFA). CpFA are prized for their combination of oxidative stability and low viscosity. These properties make them ideally suited for applications as lubricants and biodiesel



Momordica charantia produces conjugated FA (CFA). CFA are used in drying oils and can serve as replacements to petroleum additives to reduce VOC emissions from paints and other coating materials



Castor and lesquerella seeds produce the hydroxy fatty acid (HFA). HFA and derivatives are used in lubricants, nylon, soaps, and adhesives. Industrial processes consume 600-800 million lbs of HFA each year, and demand is growing rapidly