Researchers at a school in Philadelphia have figured out how to get more oil from a decidedly non-food source: tobacco leaves.
Professors from the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University have found out how to increase the oil in tobacco plant leaves, and according to this school press release, that might just be the next step in using the plants for biofuel:
According to Vyacheslav Andrianov, Ph.D., assistant professor of Cancer Biology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, 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.
Although the seed oil has been tested for use as fuel for diesel engines, tobacco plants yield a modest amount of seeds, at only about 600 kg of seeds per acre. Dr. Andrianov and his colleagues sought to find ways to engineer tobacco plants, so that their leaves expressed the oil.
“Tobacco is very attractive as a biofuel because the idea is to use plants that aren’t used in food production,” Dr. Andrianov 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.”
The researchers work appeared online in Plant Biotechnology Journal.