Scientists develop GM method to increase seed oil yield

Scientists at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have developed a new genetic modification (GM) method they say can increase the oil yield from oilseeds by up to 15% in laboratory conditions.

The university said in statement on 19 April that the new method could be applied to crops such as canola, soyabean and sunflower and would also benefit biofuel production.

The research team led by assistant professor Wei Ma from NTU’s school of Biological Sciences genetically modified the key WRI1 protein which regulates plant oil production. The patent-pending method involved stabilising WRI1 to improve its ability to interact with other proteins, which enhanced its effectiveness in producing natural oils.

“The ability to increase oil yield in a sustainable manner is expected to result in higher economic gain. Past research has shown that a small 1.5% increase in oil yield (by dry weight) in soyabean equates to a jump of US$1.26bn in the US market,” NTU stated.

“Plant seed oil is an essential component in our daily diet and the agricultural industry is seeking ways to maximise plants' yield while reducing the environmental effects of crop cultivation, especially land use. Our research helps to increase the production of seed oil in a sustainable and cost-effective way, and it also opens up new doors in agriculture research,” said Ma.

Ma would be exploring industrial collaboration to commercialise and further develop the technology, NTU said.