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Plant Biotechnol J. 2013 May;11(4):480-9. doi: 10.1111/pbi.12034. Epub 2012 Dec 28.

Reducing saturated fatty acids in Arabidopsis seeds by expression of a Caenorhabditis elegans 16:0-specific desaturase.

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Institute of Biological Chemistry, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA.


Plant oilseeds are a major source of nutritional oils. Their fatty acid composition, especially the proportion of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, has important effects on human health. Because intake of saturated fats is correlated with the incidence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, a goal of metabolic engineering is to develop oils low in saturated fatty acids. Palmitic acid (16:0) is the most abundant saturated fatty acid in the seeds of many oilseed crops and in Arabidopsis thaliana. We expressed FAT-5, a membrane-bound desaturase cloned from Caenorhabditis elegans, in Arabidopsis using a strong seed-specific promoter. The FAT-5 enzyme is highly specific to 16:0 as substrate, converting it to 16:1∆9; expression of fat-5 reduced the 16:0 content of the seed by two-thirds. Decreased 16:0 and elevated 16:1 levels were evident both in the storage and membrane lipids of seeds. Regiochemical analysis of phosphatidylcholine showed that 16:1 was distributed at both positions on the glycerolipid backbone, unlike 16:0, which is predominately found at the sn-1 position. Seeds from a plant line homozygous for FAT-5 expression were comparable to wild type with respect to seed set and germination, while oil content and weight were somewhat reduced. These experiments demonstrate that targeted heterologous expression of a desaturase in oilseeds can reduce the level of saturated fatty acids in the oil, significantly improving its nutritional value.

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