Crops could provide the raw materials needed to make industrial chemicals and polymers, such as plastics, according to CSIRO Plant Industry scientists.
"We have identified genes which when introduced into plants could see the plants operating as mini factories, and offering an alternative to petrochemical oils," said Dr Allan Green, CSIRO Plant Industry, speaking on behalf of the Australian, Swedish and English team.
"The possibilities are immense - components of detergents, nylon, glue, paints, lubricants, plastics could all be produced from plants, rather than fossil materials. Plants could provide a renewable, biodegradable source of these high value speciality products.
"Raw materials used to make polymers and speciality chemicals are modified forms of fatty acids," he said.
"Currently, these modified fatty acids are produced from non-renewable petroleum or by chemical processing of vegetable oils. We have identified genes from wild plants which carry out these modifications inside the plant - no chemical processing and no polluting waste.
"These genes can now be transferred to our major oilseed crops to create highly productive, biodegradable and renewable sources of these raw materials," said Dr Green. "The isolation of these two genes means that we have accomplished the first important step towards producing oilseeds with high yields of important fatty acids."
One gene produces an enzyme responsible for creating epoxy fatty acids, the major components in the production of polymers, used for products such as araldite.
The other gene is responsible for a different enzyme which produces acetylenic fatty acids, important for the synthesis of specialty chemicals, high quality surface coatings, and lubricants.
"This is the first time in the world anyone has isolated a gene
responsible for the production of an acetylenic compound. Nobody even knew
Contact: Dr Allan Green