Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology

Metabolic engineering of Arabidopsis to produce nutritionally important DHA in seed oil

Stan S. Robert A B D , Surinder P. Singh A C D , Xue-Rong Zhou A C D , James R. Petrie A C , Susan I. Blackburn A B , Peter M. Mansour A B , Peter D. Nichols A B , Qing Liu A C and Allan G. Green A C E

A Food Futures National Research Flagship.

B CSIRO Marine Research, GPO Box 1538, Hobart, Tas. 7001, Australia.

C CSIRO Plant Industry, PO Box 1600, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

D These authors contributed equally.

E Corresponding author. Email:

Functional Plant Biology 32(6) 473-479
Submitted: 14 April 2005  Accepted: 29 April 2005   Published: 18 May 2005


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are nutritionally important long-chain (≥ C20) omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (ω3 LC-PUFA) currently obtained mainly from marine sources. A set of genes encoding the fatty acid chain elongation and desaturation enzymes required for the synthesis of LC-PUFA from their C18 PUFA precursors was expressed seed-specifically in Arabidopsis thaliana. This resulted in the synthesis of DHA, the most nutritionally important ω3 LC-PUFA, for the first time in seed oils, along with its precursor EPA and the ω6 LC-PUFA arachidonic acid (ARA). The assembled pathway utilised Δ5 and Δ6 desaturases that operate on acyl-CoA substrates and led to higher levels of synthesis of LC-PUFA than previously reported with acyl-PC desaturases. This demonstrates the potential for development of land plants as alternative sources of DHA and other LC-PUFA to meet the growing demand for these nutrients.

Keywords: desaturase, DHA, elongase, EPA, genetic engineering, omega-3 fatty acid, seed oil.


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