Year of Publication

2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Agriculture, Food and Environment

Department

Plant and Soil Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Joe Chappell

Abstract

Terpenes comprise a large diverse class of natural products and many of them attract interest because of their physiological function, therapeutic and industrial values. Triterpene oils including squalene (C30), botrycococcene (C30) and their methylated derivatives (C31-C37) generated by the green algae Botryococcus braunii race B, which have recently received significant attention because of their utility for advanced biofuels. However, the slow growth habit of B. braunii makes it impractical as a robust biofuel production system. In this thesis, we firstly evaluated the potential of generating high levels of triterpene (C30) production in tobacco plants by diverting carbon flux from cytosolic MVA pathway or plastidic MEP pathway by overexpressing avian farnesyl diphosphate synthase along with triterpene synthase targeted to the cytoplasm or the chloroplast of cells. Up to 1,000 µg/g fresh weight of squalene and 544 µg/g fresh weight of botryococcene was achieved in our transgenic plants with this metabolism direct to the chloroplasts, which is about approximately 100-times greater than that accumulating in the plants engineered for cytosolic production. To test if methylated triterpenes can be produced in tobacco, we also engineered triterpene methyltransferases (TMTs) into wild type plants and transgenic tobacco plants selected for high level triterpene accumulation. We observed that up to 91% of the total triterpene content was converted to methylated forms (C31, C32) by targeting the TMTs to the chloroplasts of transgenic plants, whereas only 4-14% of total triterpenes were methylated when TMTs were directed to the cytoplasm. Select transgenic lines were growing in field studies from 2011 to 2014 to evaluate their physiological performance under field conditions. Surprisingly, the field studies suggested that the growth and agronomic performance of the transgenic lines accumulating squalene were not compromised, while those accumulating high levels of botryococcene were only 72%-76% as tall, had about 59%-75% of the leaf area, and about 55%-75% of the biomass as wild type plants. Yet, these transgenic plants had photosynthetic capacity equal to the wild type plants.

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