Researchers have identified a way of increasing oil content in tobacco leaves as a prelude to using these for biofuel.

In some instances, the modified tobacco plants produced 20-fold more oil in their leaves, said Vyacheslav Andrianov, assistant professor of cancer biology at Jefferson Medical College.

Tobacco can generate biofuel more efficiently than other agricultural crops. However, most of the oil is typically found in the seeds - tobacco seeds are composed of about 40 percent oil per dry weight, adds Mr. Andrianov.

Although seed oil has been tested for use as fuel in diesel engines, tobacco plants yield a modest quantity of seeds, or about 600 kg per acre.

Mr. Andrianov and his colleagues sought to find ways to engineer tobacco plants to have a higher oil content.

“Tobacco is very attractive as a biofuel because the idea is to use plants that aren't used in food production,” he said. “We have found ways to genetically engineer the plants so that their leaves express more oil. In some instances, the modified plants produced 20-fold more oil in the leaves.”

“Based on these data, tobacco represents an attractive and promising 'energy plant' platform, and could also serve as a model for the utilisation of other high-biomass plants for biofuel production,” concludes Mr. Andrianov.

These findings were published online in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

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