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Fatty acid desaturases play important roles in controlling the physical properties
o f membranes and in the synthesis of signal molecules such as prostaglandins and
pheromones. Most desaturases are membrane proteins that have been recalcitrant to
characterization by conventional biochemical methods. Only one enzyme o f this class
has been characterized from animals or fungi. In this context, plants have proved
to be useful sources of experimental materials. Substantial progress has been made
in characterizing and manipulating nine classes of desaturases that control the fatty
acid composition o f both plant membranes and plant storage lipids, which account
for approximately -30% of the calories in the human diet.