All fatty acids are not equal: Discrimination in plant membrane lipids

  • Millar A
  • Smith M
  • Kunst L
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Plant membrane lipids are primarily composed of 16-carbon and 18-carbon fatty acids containing up to three double bonds. By contrast, the seed oils of many plant species contain fatty acids with significantly different structures. These unusual fatty acids sometimes accumulate to >90% of the total fatty acid content in the seed triacylglycerols, but are generally excluded from the membrane lipids of the plant, including those of the seed. The reasons for their exclusion and the mechanisms by which this is achieved are not completely understood. Here we discuss recent research that has given new insights into how plants prevent the accumulation of unusual fatty acids in membrane lipids, and how strict this censorship of membrane composition is. We also describe a transgenic experiment that resulted in an excessive buildup of unusual fatty acids in cellular membranes, and clearly illustrated that the control of membrane lipid composition is essential for normal plant growth and development.

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  • Anthony A. Millar

  • Mark A. Smith

  • Ljerka Kunst

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