Manufacturing specialized wax esters in plants

Kamil Demski, Bao Jian Ding, Hong Lei Wang, Tam N.T. Tran, Timothy P. Durrett, Ida Lager, Christer Löfstedt, Per Hofvander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biologically produced wax esters can fulfil different industrial purposes. These functionalities almost drove the sperm whale to extinction from hunting. After the ban on hunting, there is a niche in the global market for biolubricants with properties similar to spermaceti. Wax esters can also serve as a mechanism for producing insect sex pheromone fatty alcohols. Pheromone-based mating disruption strategies are in high demand to replace the toxic pesticides in agriculture and manage insect plagues threatening our food and fiber reserves. In this study we set out to investigate the possibilities of in planta assembly of wax esters, for specific applications, through transient expression of various mix-and-match combinations of genes in Nicotiana benthamiana leaves. Our synthetic biology designs were outlined in order to pivot plant lipid metabolism into producing wax esters with targeted fatty acyl and fatty alcohols moieties. Through this approach we managed to obtain industrially important spermaceti-like wax esters enriched in medium-chain fatty acyl and/or fatty alcohol moieties of wax esters. Via employment of plant codon-optimized moth acyl-CoA desaturases we also managed to capture unusual, unsaturated fatty alcohol and fatty acyl moieties, structurally similar to moth pheromone compounds, in plant-accumulated wax esters. Comparison between outcomes of different experimental designs identified targets for stable transformation to accumulate specialized wax esters and helped us to recognize possible bottlenecks of such accumulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-402
Number of pages12
JournalMetabolic Engineering
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Jul

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Inorganic Chemistry

Free keywords

  • Insect sex pheromones
  • Pest control
  • Plant factory
  • Spermaceti
  • Synthetic biology
  • Wax esters


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