One of the major challenges of oilseed biotechnology is the length of time required to rigorously test and select traits to move toward commercialization. With traits related to oil biosynthesis, this challenge is often further compounded by the technical difficulties associated with working with insoluble membrane-bound proteins whose structure and function is poorly understood. There is a need to develop novel technologies that can accelerate trait selection and advance our understanding of the biochemical mechanisms governing seed oil accumulation.
For the past few years, Phytola has been using directed evolution coupled with a high-throughput screening system (see Siloto et al, 2009), to establish a new platform technology for rapid generation and identification of variant lipid biosynthetic enzymes with desirable attributes. Using this approach, we have been able to generate a variety of variant enzymes with enhanced activity and substrate selectivity, which could be applied in a plant system to increase seed oil content or modify the fatty acid composition in a targeted way.
This approach can not only expedite the selection of promising traits for further testing, but can also yield important information about the structure and function of key lipid biosynthetic enzymes that would be technically difficult to study using conventional protein chemistry and enzymology alone.
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