This article describes current progress in the engineering of oilseed crops for the production of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA. This example highlights the importance of algal genetic resources to the future of agricultural biotechnology.
Algae are becoming an increasingly important component of land plant metabolic engineering projects. Land plants and algae have similar enough genetics to allow relatively straightforward gene transfer and they also share enough metabolic similarities that algal enzymes often function in a plant cell environment. Understanding metabolic systems in algae can provide insights into homologous systems in land plants. As examples, algal models are currently being used by several groups to better understand starch and lipid metabolism and catabolism, fields which have relevance in land plants. Importantly, land plants and algae also have enough metabolic divergence that algal genes can often provide new metabolic traits to plants. Furthermore, many algal genomes have now been sequenced, with many more in progress, and this easy access to genome-wide information has revealed that algal genomes are often relatively simple when compared with plants.
One example of the importance of algal, and in particular microalgal, resources to land plant research is the metabolic engineering of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids into oilseed crops which typically uses microalgal genes to extend existing natural plant biosynthetic pathways. This review describes both recent progress and remaining challenges in this field.