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Olive oil. © INRA, MAITRE Christophe

Green chemistry: advances to improve lipid production by yeasts  

For the first time, a team led by INRA scientists from Versailles-Grignon, working in collaboration with CNRS and ITERG (1), has succeeded in characterising one of the enzymes involved in triglyceride synthesis in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, by expressing it in baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). These results were published on line on 24 March 2014 in PLOS ONE.

Updated on 09/19/2014
Published on 03/25/2014

As the principal form of lipid storage, triglycerides play a major role in plant development.  Their synthesis involves three stages, the last and decisive one bringing into play a family of enzymes: diacylglycerol acyltransferases (DGAT) of which there are several types.  DGAT1 is associated with edible oils, while DGAT2 tends to be found more in industrial oils. DGAT2 appear to be essential for the accumulation of useful lipids that can be used, for example, in the formulation of paints and varnishes (notably ricinoleic acid in ricin).

For the first time, and thanks to a strategy to optimise use of the genetic code, a team led by INRA scientists in Versailles-Grignon, in collaboration with CNRS and ITERG, has succeeded in actively expressing DGAT2 in a yeast.  The researchers showed that expression of the DGAT2 gene in Arabidopsis thaliana can restore the accumulation of triglycerides in a yeast that is unable to accumulate them.  They also demonstrated that the expression of DGAT (1 and 2) in the yeast induced the formation of lipid vesicles.  Although these contain triglycerides, they also harbour squalene, a molecule with potential biotechnological applications (cosmetics, dietary supplements) and which at present is mainly harvested from shark livers.

At the service of white biotechnologies

This strategy for expression developed by the scientists indicates that the expression of DGAT (1 and 2) is controlled through subtle use of the genetic code which differs slightly between the plant and the yeast.  This technique has proved to be a precious tool to express DGAT and thus increase the accumulation of lipids in the yeast.

In the current economic and ecological context of reducing the use of petroleum or animal-based substances, the production of lipids by micro-organisms is seeing sustained growth.  These DGAT enzymes (1 and 2) may thus become targets of particular interest to modify the metabolic pathways for the biosynthesis of oils (both edible and industrial) and to improve their production.

This work was carried out in the context of the Alternative Fuels for the Aviation Industry project coordinated by the Institut Français du Pétrole-Énergies Nouvelles. It formed an integral part of Laura Aymé's INRA "Young Scientist Contract".

(1) Technical Institute for Study and Research on Fats.

Aymé L., Baud S., Joffre F., Dubreucq B. and Chardot T. Function and localization of the Arabidopsis thaliana diacylglycerol acyltransferase DGAT2 expressed in yeast. PLOS ONE, 24 March 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092237

Scientific contact(s):

  • Thierry Chardot (+33 1 30 83 32 26) Institut Jean-Pierre Bourgin (INRA, AgroParisTech)
Press Relations:
INRA News Office (+33 1 42 75 91 86)
Associated Division(s):
Science for Food and Bioproduct Engineering, Plant Biology and Breeding
Associated Centre(s):