Lipids (oils) produced by plants and photosynthetic microorganisms are used for general cooking, health food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and biodiesel. The current methods to produce oils with photosynthetic microorganisms are inefficient, since the cells must undergo extreme stress for lipid droplet (LD) accumulation and then be killed for extraction. Accumulation of LDs in the cytosol generates metabolic feedback inhibition. Some of these problems also apply to oil production with plants. A more efficient production practice is needed to meet high consumer and commercial demands.
UCR researchers have developed a method to optimize oil synthesis in microorganisms and plants by redirecting cytosolic LDs to the cell vacuoles. They successfully identified and modified a specific protein involved in directing lipids to various areas within the cell. Through restructuring and adding novel peptides, researchers were then able to re-route the fate of lipids into vacuoles (storage warehouses), thus eliminating metabolic feedback inhibition. Currently, they are also working towards achieving redirection of lipids to the cell exterior for excretion.