The long-term goal is to develop a technology to increase the accumulation of hydrocarbons in a Nevada biofuel crop. The UNR team of scientists are genetically engineering plants to produce large amounts of hydrocarbons that can be easily extracted and processed into a liquid biofuel.
The strategy is to transform plants with a set of insect genes that encode key enzymes in a hydrocarbon biosynthetic pathway. These enzymes remove the acid group from a fatty acid and leave behind the “fat” - in other words, a fuel-tank ready “naked hydrocarbon”. The genes being used encode enzymes in a pathway identified in an insect system. This insect pathway represents the best characterized example for a type of hydrocarbon biosynthetic pathway that utilizes the removal of carbon groups reaction.
Two of the enzymes in this pathway have been fused together into a novel enzyme (developed by Dr. Tittiger and Dr. Blomquist, UNR). This engineered fusion has more activity than two separate enzymes. The team will test whether these enzymes can function in plants.