• Open Access

Metabolic engineering of plant oils and waxes for use as industrial feedstocks


Correspondence (Tel +61 2 6246 4913; fax +61 2 6246 4950; email Thomas.Vanhercke@csiro.au)


Society has come to rely heavily on mineral oil for both energy and petrochemical needs. Plant lipids are uniquely suited to serve as a renewable source of high-value fatty acids for use as chemical feedstocks and as a substitute for current petrochemicals. Despite the broad variety of acyl structures encountered in nature and the cloning of many genes involved in their biosynthesis, attempts at engineering economic levels of specialty industrial fatty acids in major oilseed crops have so far met with only limited success. Much of the progress has been hampered by an incomplete knowledge of the fatty acid biosynthesis and accumulation pathways. This review covers new insights based on metabolic flux and reverse engineering studies that have changed our view of plant oil synthesis from a mostly linear process to instead an intricate network with acyl fluxes differing between plant species. These insights are leading to new strategies for high-level production of industrial fatty acids and waxes. Furthermore, progress in increasing the levels of oil and wax structures in storage and vegetative tissues has the potential to yield novel lipid production platforms. The challenge and opportunity for the next decade will be to marry these technologies when engineering current and new crops for the sustainable production of oil and wax feedstocks.