Dr. Randall Weselake
Just like humans, plants are comprised of genes that determine their
various characteristics. Genes are responsible for the production of
different enzymes, groups of proteins that drive biochemical reactions at
a microscopic level. Oil production in plants such as canola and flax are
controlled by an enzyme called DGAT, and the amount of seed oil it is
possible to collect, is dependent on how much DGAT is produced.
Dr. Randall Weselake, a professor at the University of Lethbridge, has
isolated and patented the gene that produces the DGAT enzyme. By doing
this, researchers are able to control how much of the enzyme is released
and, in turn, increase the amount of oil present in the seeds of canola
and flax plants.
Developed with researchers from Agri-Food Canada and the Lethbridge
Research Centre, this new technology has the potential to increase
Canadas seed oil production exponentially. The overseas market for seed
oil products is increasing, and a greater supply could create a viable
alternative to petrochemicals in the form of biolubricants, biodiesel and
bioplastics. Researchers are currently growing the genetically engineered
plants, and so far the results have been positive.
Several parties have been interested in the new technology. One possible
application outside of the agricultural realm would be to apply what has
been learned about the oil-producing enzyme in plants to the fat producing
enzymes in animals. From this, some companies have expressed interest in
pursuing the development of an anti-obesity drug.
Weselake received a grant from Genome Prairie in the summer of 2003 to examine the effects of
drought and low temperature stress in canola cell cultures. This research
may result in a more tolerant species of canola that can better withstand
the harsh weather conditions of the Canadian prairies.
Weselake received his education from the University of Manitoba,
completing his PhD in 1984. He has worked in the field of agricultural
technology for his entire scientific career, working specifically with
enzymes and their role in plant production.
Copyright © 2003
Heritage Community Foundation All Rights Reserved