Biotechnology for biofuels

A photorespiratory bypass increases plant growth and seed yield in biofuel crop Camelina sativa.

PMID 26516348


Camelina sativa is an oilseed crop with great potential for biofuel production on marginal land. The seed oil from camelina has been converted to jet fuel and improved fuel efficiency in commercial and military test flights. Hydrogenation-derived renewable diesel from camelina is environmentally superior to that from canola due to lower agricultural inputs, and the seed meal is FDA approved for animal consumption. However, relatively low yield makes its farming less profitable. Our study is aimed at increasing camelina seed yield by reducing carbon loss from photorespiration via a photorespiratory bypass. Genes encoding three enzymes of the Escherichia coli glycolate catabolic pathway were introduced: glycolate dehydrogenase (GDH), glyoxylate carboxyligase (GCL) and tartronic semialdehyde reductase (TSR). These enzymes compete for the photorespiratory substrate, glycolate, convert it to glycerate within the chloroplasts, and reduce photorespiration. As a by-product of the reaction, CO2 is released in the chloroplast, which increases photosynthesis. Camelina plants were transformed with either partial bypass (GDH), or full bypass (GDH, GCL and TSR) genes. Transgenic plants were evaluated for physiological and metabolic traits. Expressing the photorespiratory bypass genes in camelina reduced photorespiration and increased photosynthesis in both partial and full bypass expressing lines. Expression of partial bypass increased seed yield by 50-57xa0%, while expression of full bypass increased seed yield by 57-73xa0%, with no loss in seed quality. The transgenic plants also showed increased vegetative biomass and faster development; they flowered, set seed and reached seed maturity about 1xa0week earlier than WT. At the transcriptional level, transgenic plants showed differential expression in categories such as respiration, amino acid biosynthesis and fatty acid metabolism. The increased growth of the bypass transgenics compared to WT was only observed in ambient or low CO2 conditions, but not in elevated CO2 conditions. The photorespiratory bypass is an effective approach to increase photosynthetic productivity in camelina. By reducing photorespiratory losses and increasing photosynthetic CO2 fixation rates, transgenic plants show dramatic increases in seed yield. Because photorespiration causes losses in productivity of most C3 plants, the bypass approach may have significant impact on increasing agricultural productivity for C3 crops.