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Storing carbon in leaf lipid sinks enhances perennial ryegrass carbon capture especially under high N and elevated CO2

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By modifying two genes involved in lipid biosynthesis and storage [cysteine oleosin (cys-OLE)/diacylglycerol O-acyltransferase (DGAT)], the accumulation of stable lipid droplets in perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) leaves was achieved. Growth, biomass allocation, leaf structure, gas exchange parameters, fatty acids, and water-soluble carbohydrates were quantified for a high-expressing cys-OLE/DGAT ryegrass transformant (HL) and a wild-type (WT) control grown under controlled conditions with 1–10 mM nitrogen (N) supply at ambient and elevated atmospheric CO2. A dramatic shift in leaf carbon (C) storage occurred in HL leaves, away from readily mobilizable carbohydrates and towards stable lipid droplets. HL exhibited an increased growth rate, mainly in non-photosynthetic organs, leading to a decreased leaf mass fraction. HL leaves, however, displayed an increased specific leaf area and photosynthetic rate per unit leaf area, delivering greater overall C capture and leaf growth at high N supply. HL also exhibited a greater photosynthesis response to elevated atmospheric CO2. We speculate that by behaving as uniquely stable microsinks for C, cys-OLE-encapsulated lipid droplets can reduce feedback inhibition of photosynthesis and drive greater C capture. Manipulation of many genes and gene combinations has been used to increase non-seed lipid content. However, the cys-OLE/DGAT technology remains the only reported case that increases plant biomass. We contrast cys-OLE/DGAT with other lipid accumulation strategies and discuss the implications of introducing lipid sinks into non-seed organs for plant energy homeostasis and growth.


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© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Experimental Biology. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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Oxford University Press

Journal title

Journal of Experimental Botany




Beechey-Gradwell, Z., Cooney, L., Winichayakul, S., Andrews, M., Hea, S. Y., Crowther, T., & Roberts, N. (2020). Storing carbon in leaf lipid sinks enhances perennial ryegrass carbon capture especially under high N and elevated CO2. Journal of Experimental Botany, 71(7), 2351–2361. doi:10.1093/jxb/erz494

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