Very long chain fatty acids (VLCFAs) are essential components for eukaryotes. They are elongated by the elongase complex in the endoplasmic reticulum and are incorporated into four major lipid pools (triacylglycerols, waxes, phospholipids, complex sphingolipids). Functional analysis of several components of the elongase complex demonstrated the essential role of VLCFAs in plants, invertebrates and vertebrates. Although VLCFAs changes in the triacylglycerol pool has no consequence for plant development, modifications of the nature and levels of VLCFAs in waxes, phospholipids and complex sphingolipids have, collectively, profound effects on embryo, leaf, root and flower development. VLCFAs levels in epicuticular waxes are critical for the regulation of epidermal fusions during organogenesis. VLCFAs phospholipids and sphingolipids are involved in membrane structure and dynamics regulating cell size but also division and differentiation. This review summarizes the recent findings in plants but also in other organisms, highlighting the importance of very long acyl chain length during development. © 2010 Académie des sciences.
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