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Tobacco – A source for Biofuel production
The decreasing reserve of petroleum and the ever-increasing demand for energy by the developing industrial countries is initiating the development of alternative sources of energy to meet the demands. The economy and the national security of a country, both are threatened due to the increased dependence on imported petroleum. Moreover, the countries all over the world are affected due to the negative impact of the extraction, refining, transportation, and utility of petroleum on the environment. Hence, the alternative sources of fuel are being researched upon to provide better options to meet energy demands and biofuel is the most preferred alternative source of energy.

Tobacco was not included among the various plant resources for the alternative biofuel production as it was considered a plant grown especially for smoking and hence was expensive. However, closer analysis regarding the nature of the crop revealed that tobacco produced large amount of biomass or green tissues compared to many other crops when it was specially grown to produce biomass instead of its usual utility for smoking, so could be included among the industrial biomass crops producing outstanding levels of biomass. Like some of the trees with hardwood capable of being coppiced, i.e. regenerate from the stumps after being pruned to ground level for the harvesting of the stems, tobacco can also be coppiced for regeneration thus providing the possibility of multiple harvests in a year increasing the biomass production to great extents. Moreover, biofuel could be generated more efficiently from tobacco compared to other agricultural crops thus making it a better resource for biofuel production.

Usually, only the seeds of the crops are associated with the production of the biofuel oil as when compared to the other green tissues of the crops like leaves, stems, etc only the seeds are capable of accumulating triacyglycerols, the storage reserves, which constitute a form of biofuel oil. The tobacco seeds have the biosynthetic machinery of producing oil constituting almost 40% of the dry weight of the seeds thus are potent biofuel oil producers. According to Usta, the seed oil of tobacco has been tested successfully for the production of diesel engine fuel. However, the yield of tobacco seeds is very low compared to the other biofuel oil producers like the rapeseeds, soybean, etc and constitutes roughly about 600kg seeds per acre. Studies suggest that though the primary synthesis of oil takes place in the photosynthetic tissues of the plants, the accumulation of the biofuel oil takes place in the seeds, though in some plants, the leaves deposit oil in the form of oil bodies. According to Vincent, in case of tobacco, the leaves contain about 1.7-4% of oil per dry weight, which can be extracted as the esters of fatty acids (FA) that are the important constituents of biofuel oil and the green biomass like stem contains very low percentage of oil compared to the seeds. However, the potential of tobacco to produce huge amounts of biomass and the ease of performing genetic engineering on it makes it a promising biofuel producing plant.

Genetic engineering technology has played a major role in increasing and relocating the oil content by the gene manipulation of the parts of plant other than seeds such as root, stem, etc making the green biomass a good biodiesel manufacturing system. Studies have shown that increase in the oil accumulation in the alternative plant organs was possible by the enhancement in the expression of some lipid metabolizing enzymes.
a)The over-expression of the enzyme diacylglycerol acyltransferase (DGAT), an important enzyme in the TAG biosynthesis has been shown to help in the triacylglycerol accumulation in the tobacco seeds, leaves, and tubers. An increase to about two-fold almost 5.8% was observed in the tobacco leaves by the genetic modification of DGAT.

b)The Leafy Cotyledon genes (LEC1 and LEC2) regulate the development and maturation of the seeds. The constitutive expression of these genes in the leaves exhibit the transcription of the mRNAs specific to the seeds and it helps to channel the accumulation of oil by inducing the seed-like structure formation in the green vegetative tissues as shown in the transgenic Arabidopsis plants. Thus, the constitutive over-expression of DGAT and the induced expression of LEC2 genes have favoured the utility of tobacco as an alternative, renewable resource of biofuel increasing the oil content thereby shifting the FA composition in the green biomass.

Thus, it can be seen that tobacco is emerging as a good source of biofuel and can help in meeting the increasing demands of energy to a great extent with the development of genetic engineering technology and can also provide an attractive Energy plant platform for other high biomass plants to be used in the biofuel production.
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