Plants, like people, pack on pounds with too much sugar

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In New York, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered that plants, like people, accumulate fat when they retain sugars.

In previous work, John Shanklin and Zhiyang Zhai determined that high sugar levels in a plant inhibit a protein that breaks down another protein that would otherwise trigger a plant’s oil-production genes. So the two set out to boost oil production by blocking the transport of sugar from leaves into other parts of the plant for use in growth and development. After selectively breeding plants with traits to block certain sugar transport and conversion pathways, the team developed plants with increased oil production and accumulation.

The discovery could help increase production of biofuels and other useful chemicals from plants.

“Findings from these foundational biochemical-genetic studies provide valuable insights into the relationship between sugar, oil precursors, and oil accumulation in leaves that will help inform biotechnological efforts to optimize oil accumulation in vegetative tissues of economically important plants,” says Shanklin.

The work was published in a recent issue of Plant Physiology.