Brookhaven researchers discover ways plants control oil levels in cells

April 30, 2019 |

In New York state, biochemists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered two ways that autophagy, or self-eating, controls the levels of oils in plant cells. The study, published in The Plant Cell on April 29, 2019, describes how this cannibalistic-sounding process actually helps plants survive. It also provides mechanistic details scientists might leverage to get plants to accumulate more oil.

The Brookhaven team used plants they had already modified to store oil in lipid droplets in their leaves. To track where the oil came from, they fed cells from these plants fatty acid precursors that were labeled with a radioactive form of carbon. This radioactive “tag” allowed them to track where the labeled molecules went over time.

They found that the labeled fatty acids were not directly incorporated into lipid droplets. Instead they first became part of the cells’ various membranes.

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