Modifying oilseed rape crops by switching off a specific gene to reduce the breakdown of oil could lead to new varieties with higher oil contents, boosting UK farmer incomes by £40m.
To date, breeders have attempted to increase oil production in seeds by increasing the capacity of the plant to produce the oil. However, oil is also broken down in the seed with the oil content of rapeseed reported to decline by about 10% in the final stage of crop development, as the seeds desiccate.
Therefore, reducing this decline could be a new way of boosting oil yields, said Pete Eastmond at Rothamsted Research.
To investigate this, researchers carried out an experiment (reported in The Plant Biotechnology Journal) where the team suppressed the R sugar-dependent1 triacylglycerol lipase gene family to switch off the enzyme responsible for oil breakdown, specifically for the duration of seed development. This resulted in the accumulation of around 8% more oil in the seed with very little adverse impact on seed vigour.
However, he added that further work was required to establish the efficacy of this method in the field and also to investigate whether it could be applied to other oilseed crops, or successfully combined with alternative approaches to boost yield.
"Oilseed rape has become quite a profitable crop in recent years and the scale of cultivation in the UK has increased substantially. Farmers receive a bonus at market, based on the oil content of their seed. If this technology translates from laboratory to field, we estimate it could be worth an extra £40m to farmers in the UK alone," he said.
The work, sponsored by the BBSRC, was performed in collaboration with BASF.
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