August 13, 2015

Biochemist studies oilseed plants for biofuel, industrial development

A Kansas State University biochemist is studying Camelina sativa — a nonfood oilseed crop —
to see how it can be used for biofuel or even industrial and food-related applications.
Photo credit: Matt Wisniewski, GLBRC | Photo copyright: Plant Biotechnology Journal

(August 13, 2015)  A Kansas State University biochemistry professor has reached a milestone in building a better biofuel: producing high levels of lipids with modified properties in oil seeds.

Timothy Durrett, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics in the College of Arts & Sciences, and collaborators at Michigan State University and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln have modified Camelina sativa — a nonfood oilseed crop — and produced the highest levels of modified seed lipids to date. By modifying the oilseed biochemistry in camelina, the researchers have achieved very high levels of an oil with reduced viscosity and improved cold temperature characteristics.

The goal of the research is to alter oilseeds to produce large amounts of modified oil that can be used as improved biofuels or even industrial and food-related applications. The research recently appeared in the journal Industrial Crops and Products and on the front cover of the Plant Biotechnology Journal.

"Reducing our dependence on fossil fuel-derived carbon is always good," Durrett said. "Using alternative sources of fuel is the obvious way to reduce our dependence. But even other applications, such as using it for lubricants or as feedstocks for the chemical industry, would help reduce our dependence on fossil-derived carbon."

Camelina can grow on poorer quality farmland, needs little irrigation or fertilizer, and produces seeds that can provide gallons of oil, Durrett said. It also can be rotated with wheat and could become a biofuel crop for semi-arid regions, including western Kansas and Colorado.

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