Burning bush plant promises low-cal vegetable oil, biofuels

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Washington, May 21 (ANI): New genetic discoveries from a shrub called the burning bush, known for its brilliant red fall foliage, could pave the way for new advances in biofuels and low-calorie food oils, found 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.

However, 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. 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," explained Timothy Durrett.

He said that its improved low-temperature characteristics could also make it suitable for diesel fuel.

And acTAGs boast lower calorie content than other vegetable oils,"thus they could be used as a reduced-calorie food oil substitute," added Durrett.

The researchers now are working to improve the modified mustard weed 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. With the basic genetics defined and thus one major technical risk greatly reduced, the way is open to produce and assess this novel oil in food and nonfood applications," said Pollard.

The study was published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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