Canola (Brassica napus and Brassica rapa) is Canada’s most valuable oilseed crop, generating up to $15.4 billion in economic activity each year ($5 billion in Alberta). In addition to its relatively high seed oil content (42.5% on average), canola has a fatty acid composition that is prized for both its nutritional value and its versatility for various non-food applications. While significant improvements to canola oil content and agronomic performance have been achieved through conventional breeding, the Canadian canola industry has fully embraced biotechnology, with genetically-engineered varieties accounting for more than 80% of annual production. This makes canola an ideal platform for continued biotechnological improvement.
Given the increasing global demand for vegetable oils in general, and for canola oil in particular, the Canola Council of Canada has set a target to increase the seed oil content of canola to 45% (from its current average of 42.5%) by 2015. Phytola researchers have been at the forefront of this pursuit for many years, having isolated the first cDNAs of a Brassica napus diacylglcyerol acyltransferase (DGAT) (Nykiforuk et al, 2002), and having demonstrated that the enzymatic step catalyzed by DGAT represents a key metabolic constraint on the overall accumulation of oil in developing canola seeds under both greenhouse and field conditions (see Weselake et al, 2008).
Diacyglycerol acyltransferase (DGAT), catalyzes the final and committed step of seed oil biosynthesis, and is thus an important biotechnological target for enhancing seed oil accumulation in many oilseed crops. Phytola is currently using its combined expertise in enzymology, molecular genetics, and lipid analysis to understand the structure and function of DGAT, and to generate “high-performance” variants of the enzyme capable of supporting increased levels of seed oil accumulation in planta. We also continue to identify and characterize novel gene targets for oilseed modification, using both functional genomic and comparative genetic approaches.
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