Biofuels from Engineered Tobacco Plants?
A biofuel is tricky to define because the usual fossil fuel we use, is in a way biofuel too. But we can safely say that most of the biofuels don’t add up their quota of carbon dioxide to the environment. The biofuels are therefore considered to be “CO2 neutral.” Researchers from the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University have developed a new method to increase the quantity of oil in tobacco leaves. So that oil in tobacco leaves can be utilized as biofuels in future. Their paper was published in Plant Biotechnology Journal which is an online journal.
Vyacheslav Andrianov is a Ph.D. and assistant professor of Cancer Biology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. According to him tobacco can produce biofuel more efficiently than other agricultural crops. But there is a hitch. When we try to extract oil, most of it is available in tobacco seeds. Statistics say that tobacco seeds are composed of about 40 percent oil per dry weight. Another snag is tobacco plants don’t produce seeds in copious amounts. It is about 600 kg of seeds per acre. Dr. Andrianov and his colleagues aim to find ways so that the tobacco leaves produce more oil.
A usual tobacco plant leave has 1.7 percent to 4 percent of oil per dry weight. The researchers modified two genes of the plant. They are the diacyglycerol acytransferase (DGAT) gene or the LEAFY COTYLEDON 2 (LEC2) gene. The plants were engineered to over express one of the two genes. The alteration of DGAT gene resulted in about 5.8 percent of oil per dry weight in the leaves. It is around twice the amount of oil produced by and large. When the researcher went for the LEC2 gene modification it yielded around 6.8 percent of oil per dry weight.
According to Dr. Andrianov, “Tobacco is very attractive as a biofuel because the idea is to use plants that aren’t used in food production. We have found ways to genetically engineer the plants so that their leaves express more oil. In some instances, the modified plants produced 20-fold more oil in the leaves.”
Dr. Andrianov opines, “Based on these data, tobacco represents an attractive and promising ‘energy plant’ platform, and could also serve as a model for the utilization of other high-biomass plants for biofuel production.”