Intron-Mediated Enhancement of DIACYLGLYCEROL ACYLTRANSFERASE1 Expression in Energycane Promotes a Step Change for Lipid Accumulation in Vegetative Tissues

Themes: Feedstock Production

Keywords: Lipidomics, Metabolomics


Cao, V.D., Luo, G., Korynta, S., Liu, H., Shanklin, J., Altpeter, F. Oct. 14, 2023. “Intron-Mediated Enhancement of DIACYLGLYCEROL ACYLTRANSFERASE1 Expression in Energycane Promotes a Step Change for Lipid Accumulation in Vegetative Tissues.” Biotechnology Biofuels. DOI: 10.1186/s13068-023-02393-1.


TAG (A) and total FA (B) contents in first dewlap leaves of lines L2 and L13 and wild-type during plant development (August-October 2021).

Metabolic engineering for hyperaccumulation of lipids in vegetative tissues is a novel strategy for enhancing energy density and biofuel production from biomass crops. Energycane is a prime feedstock for this approach due to its high biomass production and resilience under marginal conditions. DIACYLGLYCEROL ACYLTRANSFERASE (DGAT) catalyzes the last and only committed step in the biosynthesis of triacylglycerol (TAG) and can be a rate-limiting enzyme for the production of TAG.  In this study, we explored the effect of intron-mediated enhancement (IME) on the expression of DGAT1 and resulting accumulation of TAG and total fatty acid (TFA) in leaf and stem tissues of energycane. To maximize lipid accumulation these evaluations were carried out by co-expressing the lipogenic transcription factor WRINKLED1 (WRI1) and the TAG protect factor oleosin (OLE1). Including an intron in the codon-optimized TmDGAT1 elevated the accumulation of its transcript in leaves by seven times on average based on 5 transgenic lines for each construct. Plants with WRI1 (W), DGAT1 with intron (Di), and OLE1 (O) expression (WDiO) accumulated TAG up to a 3.85% of leaf dry weight (DW), a 192-fold increase compared to non-modified energycane (WT) and a 3.8-fold increase compared to the highest accumulation under the intron-less gene combination (WDO). This corresponded to TFA accumulation of up to 8.4% of leaf dry weight, a 2.8-fold or 6.1-fold increase compared to WDO or WT, respectively. Co-expression of WDiO resulted in stem accumulations of TAG up to 1.14% of DW or TFA up to 2.08% of DW that exceeded WT by 57-fold or 12-fold and WDO more than twofold, respectively. Constitutive expression of these lipogenic “push pull and protect” factors correlated with biomass reduction.  Intron-mediated enhancement (IME) of the expression of DGAT resulted in a step change in lipid accumulation of energycane and confirmed that under our experimental conditions it is rate limiting for lipid accumulation. IME should be applied to other lipogenic factors and metabolic engineering strategies. The findings from this study may be valuable in developing a high biomass feedstock for commercial production of lipids and advanced biofuels.


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  • Leaf and stem TAG/fatty acids
  • Primers
  • TAG/fatty acid correlation