Researchers have developed a way to boost the naturally-occurring oils in tobacco, increasing its potential for use as a biofuel. Big tobacco plus big oil? What could possibly go wrong?
It seems that the seeds of the tobacco plant are naturally high in oils that would make them ideal for use as a biofuel — but an acre of the plant only produces around 600kg of seeds. Researchers from the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University have found a way to modify the plants to produce 20x as much oil in the leaves — by tweaking the diacyglycerol acytransferase (DGAT) and the LEAFY COTYLEDON 2 (LEC2) genes. This would significantly increase the amount of biofuel that could be generated.
Large areas of America are already set up for tobacco farming, so the switch to biofuel production may not be too difficult. We might even see large tobacco firms using this as a PR offensive, as a way to clean up their tarnished image. Who knows, maybe they'll even team up with big oil, for a megacorp lovefest.