CANBERRA—Australian researchers say they are a step closer to turning plants into "biofactories" capable of producing oils which can be used to replace petrochemicals.
Biofactory plants could provide farmers with new, high-value crops bred to suit growing conditions, they say.
Scientists working within the joint CSIRO/Grains Research and Development Corporation crop biofactories initiative (CBI) claim a major advance by accumulating 30 per cent of an unusual fatty acid (UFA) in the model plant, Arabidopsis.
UFAs are usually sourced from petrochemicals to produce plastics, paints and cosmetics.
CBI is developing new technologies for making a range of UFAs in oilseeds, to provide Australia with a head start in the emerging so-called bioeconomy.
"Using crops as biofactories has many advantages beyond the replacement of dwindling petrochemical resources," CSIRO team leader Dr Allan Green said in a statement.
"Global challenges such as population growth, climate change and the switch from non-renewable resources are opening up many more opportunities for bio-based products."
The production of biofactory plants could be matched to demand and would provide farmers with new, high-value crops bred to suit their growing conditions, Dr Green said.
"The technology is low greenhouse-gas generating, sustainable and can reinvigorate agribusiness.
"We are confident we have the right genes, an understanding of the biosynthesis pathways and the right breeding skills to produce an oilseed plant with commercially-viable UFA levels in the near future."
The team is expected to announce the successful completion of the first stage of the CBI at a world biotechnology conference in Chicago today.
The selection of safflower as the target crop will also be announced by the team.
"Safflower is an ideal plant for industrial production for Australia," Dr Green said.
"It is hardy and easy to grow, widely adapted to Australian production regions and easily isolated from food production systems."
The CBI is a 12-year project which aims to add value to the Australian agricultural and chemical industries by developing technologies to produce novel industrial compounds from genetically modified oilseed crops.