Poly(β-hydroxybutyrate) production in oilseed leukoplasts of Brassica napus
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Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) comprise a class of biodegradable polymers which offer an environmentally sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastics. Production of PHAs in plants is attractive since current fermentation technology is prohibitively expensive. The PHA homopolymer poly(β-hydroxybutyrate) (PHB) has previously been produced in leaves of Arabidopsis thaliana (Nawrath et al., 1994, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 91: 12760–12764). However, Brassica napus oilseed may provide a better system for PHB production because acetyl-CoA, the substrate required in the first step of PHB biosynthesis, is prevalent during fatty acid biosynthesis. Three enzymatic activities are needed to synthesize PHB: a β-ketothiolase, an acetoacetyl-CoA reductase and a PHB synthase. Genes from the bacterium Ralstonia eutropha encoding these enzymes were independently engineered behind the seed-specific Lesquerella fendleri oleate 12-hydroxylase promoter in a modular fashion. The gene cassettes were sequentially transferred into a single, multi-gene vector which was used to transform B. napus. Poly(β-hydroxybutyrate) accumulated in leukoplasts to levels as high as 7.7% fresh seed weight of mature seeds. Electron-microscopy analyses indicated that leukoplasts from these plants were distorted, yet intact, and appeared to expand in response to polymer accumulation.
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