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Brookhaven, Carnegie Scientists Report First 'Morphing' Of Plant Enzyme Function

UPTON, NY -- In a transformation worthy of Hollywood special effects, biochemists have for the first time "morphed" a plant enzyme, turning it into another enzyme with a different function, through genetic manipulation.

The achievement advances the prospects of "designer" plants for renewable industrial raw materials, fuel and food. It also sheds new light on how plant enzymes evolved to perform different functions.

The team of scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Stanford, California, campus reports its accomplishment in today's issue of Science.

"We have shown that it is possible to change an enzyme's function dramatically by tweaking its structure just slightly," said John Shanklin, who co-led the research team. "Nature has been doing this for eons through mutation; our experiment shows how such changes might come about and what their end result is."

DOE's Director of the Office of Science, Martha Krebs, commented, "This is not only a discovery of fundamental scientific significance, but it clearly demonstrates a pathway to develop an alternative, biologically-based source for many oils used in industry which currently depend upon petroleum for their production."

Shanklin and his colleagues worked with enzymes called desaturases and hydroxylases, taken from different species of related cruciferous plants.

Both enzymes perform important tasks. Desaturase converts plant molecules called fatty acids from straight to bent, by turning single chemical bonds into double ones. Hydroxylase adds hydroxy groups to the fatty acids' structure.

These simple chemical changes can make huge differences in plant oil properties. For example, a fatty acid molecule with two bends may be sensitive to heat, while a fatty acid with an added hydroxy group is heat-resistant and performs wells as a high-te
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Contact: Kara Villamil
karav@bnl.gov
516-344-5658
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
12-Nov-1998


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