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Local plant to make shampoo, soap oils.

Genetic engineers have taken the first steps toward creating a domestic crop capable of producing a major ingredient in cosmetics. That ingredient, laurate, represents one of several commercially important fatty acids -- straight-chain, carbon-based molecules in fats and oils, says Toni A. Voelker, a molecular biologist at Calgene, Inc., in Davis, Calif. Most plants produce fatty acids with 16 or 18 carbon atoms, but laurate contains just 12.

Currently the 100 million tons of laurate produced annually come from tropical palms. To get a temperate-zone plant to make this fatty acid in large quantities, H. Maelor Davies and his colleagues at Calgene first identified the enzyme responsible for laurate production in oil seeds of a plant called California bay. Voelker then cloned the gene that encodes this enzyme and transferred that gene to rapeseed and to common wall cress. The enzyme interrupts fatty acid synthesis, so some molecules in these genetically altered plants now contain just 12 carbon atoms, the scientists report in the July 3 SCIENCE.

They have since produced rapeseed seeds in which laurate represents half the fatty acids present, says Voelker. Next Calgene hopes to produce eight-carbon fatty acids useful in substitute fats or 14-carbon ones for detergents.
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Title Annotation:Calgene Inc.
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jul 18, 1992
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