February 2012

Lipid droplets in plants: they're not just for energy storage anymore


In the February 2012 edition of the Journal of Lipid Research, Kent Chapman at the University of North Texas and colleagues examine the creation and functions of lipid droplets in plants. The article is part of an ongoing thematic review series on lipid droplets in eukaryotic model systems being coordinated by JLR Editorial Board Member Karen Reue of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Plant seeds store large amounts of triacylglycerols in lipid droplets. After a seed germinates, these TAGs serve as the primary source of fuel for the growth of the developing seedling before the plant can get energy via photosynthesis. Over the last couple of years of research, it has been discovered that lipid droplets in plants aren’t simply for energy storage as had been long assumed. Stress response, pathogen resistance and hormone metabolism, although all very different processes, use the TAGs in plant lipid droplets. There is increasing evidence that the organelles in plants are more similar to their yeast and mammalian counterparts than previously thought.

Chapman et al.’s review “Biogenesis and functions of lipid droplets in plants” includes a section on approaches to identify novel proteins that are involved with lipid droplet biogenesis in plants. Notably, there are homologues in the Arabidopsis (rockcress plant) model system for human genes associated with lipodystrophy (the abnormal metabolism or redistribution of fat in the body). Several of these genes have been implicated in lipid droplet formation and the tissue-specific distribution of lipid droplets. It may seem like a stretch to compare plants to humans, but research points to the development of better treatments for debilitating lipid-related disorders in humans by taking the growing body of knowledge about lipid droplets in plants and using it in biotechnology applications.

Mary L. Chang (mchang@asbmb.org) is managing editor of the Journal of Lipid Research and coordinating journal manager of Molecular and Cellular Proteomics.

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