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Engineered Tobacco Plants as Biofuel
Detection of a novel method to increase oil in tobacco plant by the researchers at the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University is a major breakthrough towards production of biofuel from these plants. Since tobacco plants are very efficient producer of biofuel, use of such plants can prevent exploitation of other agricultural crop.  However a major challenge to the researchers was the presence of the precious oil mostly in tobacco seeds while the tobacco plants can produce about 600 kg of seeds per acre only. 

Tobacco seeds comprises of nearly  40 percent oil per dry weight. Nevertheless, genetic engineering of the plants can somehow solve this problem by enabling the leaves to produce more oil. One of the project’s researchers, Dr. Andrianov, reported modification of the tobacco plants so as to increase oil production up to  20-fold. According to Andrianov,  a promising and effective ‘energy plant’ platform being provided by tobacco, that also could act as a model for the utilization of other plants with high-biomass content required for production of biofuel. Dr. Andrianov stated that tobacco is quite an attractive plant for biofuel production that goes with the  idea of using plants not required for food production.  Plants were genetically engineered to make the leaves more effective in oil production. It has been found that leaves of tobacco plant contain 1.7 percent to 4 percent of oil per dry weight. 

Genetic engineering resulted in over-expression of one of the two genes: the diacyglycerol acytransferase (DGAT) gene or the LEAFY COTYLEDON 2 (LEC2) gene. Modification of the DGAT gene increased oil production up to 5.8 percent per dry weight in the leaves, which is nearly two-fold of the  oil produced normally. Modification of LEC2 gene resulted in6.8 percent of oil production per dry weight. Dr. Andrianov and Dr. Nikolai Borisjuk, Jefferson Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories co-authored the paper. Hilary Koprowski, M.D., director of the Jefferson Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories, also contributed to the research.
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