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Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2008 Apr;86(4):215-21. doi: 10.1139/Y08-008.

Genetic possibilities for altering sunflower oil quality to obtain novel oils.

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  • 1Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Belgrade, Novi Sad Branch, Nikole Pasića 6, 21000 Novi Sad, Serbia.


The sunflower is one of the four most important oilseed crops in the world, and the nutritional quality of its edible oil ranks among the best vegetable oils in cultivation. Typically up to 90% of the fatty acids in conventional sunflower oil are unsaturated, namely oleic (C 18:1, 16%-19%) and linoleic (C 18:2, 68%-72%) fatty acids. Palmitic (C 16:0, 6%), stearic (C 18:0, 5%), and minor amounts of myristic (C 14:0), myristoleic (C 14:1), palmitoleic (C 16:1), arachidic (C 20:0), behenic (C 22:0), and other fatty acids account for the remaining 10%. Advances in modern genetics, most importantly induced mutations, have altered the fatty acid composition of sunflower oil to a significant extent. Treating sunflower seeds with gamma- and X-rays has produced mutants with 25%-30% palmitic acid. Sunflower seed treatment with X-rays has also resulted in mutants having 30% palmitoleic acid, while treatments with mutagenic sodium azide have produced seeds containing 35% stearic acid. The most important mutations have been obtained by treatment with dimethyl sulfate, which produced genotypes with more than 90% oleic acid. Mutants have also been obtained that have a high linoleic acid content (>80%) by treating seeds with X-rays and ethyl methanesulfonate. Of the vitamin E family of compounds, sunflower oil is known to predominantly contain alpha-tocopherol (>90%). Spontaneous mutations controlled by recessive genes have been discovered that significantly alter tocopherol forms and levels. The genes in question are tph(1) (50% alpha- and 50% beta-tocopherol), tph(2) (0%-5% alpha- and 95%-100% gamma-tocopherol), and tph(1)tph(2) (8%-40% alpha-, 0%-25% beta-, 25%-84% gamma-, and 8%-50% delta-tocopherol). The existence of (mutant) genes for increased levels of individual fatty acids and for different forms and levels of tocopherol enables the development of sunflower hybrids with different oil quality. The greatest progress has been made in developing high-oleic hybrids (>90% oleic acid). There has been considerable work done recently on the development of high-oleic hybrids with altered tocopherol levels, the oil of which will have 10-20 times greater oxidative stability than that of conventional sunflower oil. While sunflower breeders work on developing hybrids with altered oil quality, medical scientists in general and nutritionists in particular will determine the parameters for the use of these novel types of oil that can improve human nutrition and be used in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

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