A new database for seed oil fatty acids — the database SOFA



In a time of diminishing resources, a better knowledge of nature's biodiversity is important. The plant kingdom contains lipids with an astonishing variety of structures, particularly so in angiosperm seed oils. Lipids as natural products are an exciting field of research. Over many years, the Institute for Chemistry and Physics of Lipids in Münster has collected seed oil fatty acid composition data, which were sorted by plant botanical name. Although this collection contained numerous examples for the occurrence, distribution, and content of fatty acids with unusual structures in various concentrations, they could not be searched for manually. This data collection has now been transferred into an electronically searchable database, offering a variety of search routines. Currently it contains about 110, 000 individual data in 17, 500 sets, relating to more than 7, 000 different plant species. About 500 different fatty acids are listed. The database permits searches for plant species, genera and families, for individual fatty acids and combinations of fatty acids in their seed oils, and for their percentage contents in form of fatty acid composition tables. It also contains literature references and close to 1, 000 unpublished data from analyses carried out by GLC analysis between 1986 and 2002 in the Institute for Chemistry and Physics of Lipids. Most interestingly, fatty acid partial structures or functional groups can also be searched for, yielding the percentage contents of relevant fatty acids, using a specially developed “Delta-Notation” system. The data on occurrence and distribution of unusual fatty acids in the plant kingdom will be useful in chemistry, botany, search for renewable resources, plant breeding, gene technology or gene transfer and indirectly also for enzyme design. A number of examples for “search” and find operations are given and may help to illustrate the usefulness of the new database.