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Plant Sci. 2013 Jun;207:128-34. doi: 10.1016/j.plantsci.2013.03.003. Epub 2013 Mar 15.

Commentary: why don't plant leaves get fat?

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Center for Plant Lipid Research, Department of Biological Sciences, University of North Texas, Denton, TX 76203, USA.


Recent pressures to obtain energy from plant biomass have encouraged new metabolic engineering strategies that focus on accumulating lipids in vegetative tissues at the expense of lignin, cellulose and/or carbohydrates. There are at least three important factors that support this rationale. (i) Lipids are more reduced than carbohydrates and so they have more energy per unit of mass. (ii) Lipids are hydrophobic and thus take up less volume than hydrated carbohydrates on a mass basis for storage in tissues. (iii) Lipids are more easily extracted and converted into useable biofuels than cellulosic-derived fuels, which require extensive fractionation, degradation of lignocellulose and fermentation of plant tissues. However, while vegetative organs such as leaves are the majority of harvestable biomass and would be ideal for accumulation of lipids, they have evolved as "source" tissues that are highly specialized for carbohydrate synthesis and export and do not have a propensity to accumulate lipid. Metabolism in leaves is directed mostly toward the synthesis and export of sucrose, and engineering strategies have been devised to divert the flow of photosynthetic carbon from sucrose, starch, lignocellulose, etc. toward the accumulation of triacylglycerols in non-seed, vegetative tissues for bioenergy applications.

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