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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Manufacturing specialized wax esters in plants

Demski, Kamil; Ding, Bao-Jian; Wang, Hong-Lei; Tran, Tam N. T.; Durrett, Timothy P.; Lager, Ida; Lofstedt, Christer; Hofvander, Per


Biologically produced wax esters can fulfil different industrial purposes. These functionalities almost drove the sperm whale to extinction from hunting. After the ban on hunting, there is a niche in the global market for biolubricants with properties similar to spermaceti. Wax esters can also serve as a mechanism for producing insect sex pheromone fatty alcohols. Pheromone-based mating disruption strategies are in high demand to replace the toxic pesticides in agriculture and manage insect plagues threatening our food and fiber reserves. In this study we set out to investigate the possibilities of in planta assembly of wax esters, for specific applications, through transient expression of various mix-and-match combinations of genes in Nicotiana benthamiana leaves. Our synthetic biology designs were outlined in order to pivot plant lipid metabolism into producing wax esters with targeted fatty acyl and fatty alcohols moieties. Through this approach we managed to obtain industrially important spermaceti-like wax esters enriched in medium-chain fatty acyl and/or fatty alcohol moieties of wax esters. Via employment of plant codon-optimized moth acyl-CoA desaturases we also managed to capture unusual, unsaturated fatty alcohol and fatty acyl moieties, structurally similar to moth pheromone compounds, in plant-accumulated wax esters. Comparison between outcomes of different experimental designs identified targets for stable transformation to accumulate specialized wax esters and helped us to recognize possible bottlenecks of such accumulation.


Wax esters; Insect sex pheromones; Pest control; Spermaceti; Plant factory; Synthetic biology

Published in

Metabolic Engineering
2022, volume: 72, pages: 391-402

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Plant Breeding
Ding, Bao-Jian
Lund University
Wang, Hong-Lei
Lund University
Tran, Tam N. T.
Kansas State University
Durrett, Timothy P.
Kansas State University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Plant Breeding
Lofstedt, Christer
Lund University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Plant Breeding

Associated SLU-program

SLU Network Plant Protection

UKÄ Subject classification

Plant Biotechnology
Other Environmental Biotechnology

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