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Dr. Randall Weselake

Dr. Randall WeselakeJust 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.

University of Lethbridge 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 Canada’s 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.

Canola 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.

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