Efficient storage of carbon in seeds is crucial to plant fitness and to agricultural productivity. Oil is a major reserve material in most seeds, and these oils provide the largest source of renewable reduced carbon chains available from nature. However, the conversion of carbohydrate to oil through glycolysis results in the loss of one-third of the carbon as CO2. Here we show that, in developing embryos of Brassica napus L. (oilseed rape), Rubisco (ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase) acts without the Calvin cycle and in a previously undescribed metabolic context to increase the efficiency of carbon use during the formation of oil. In comparison with glycolysis, the metabolic conversion we describe provides 20% more acetyl-CoA for fatty-acid synthesis and results in 40% less loss of carbon as CO2. Our conclusions are based on measurements of mass balance, enzyme activity and stable isotope labelling, as well as an analysis of elementary flux modes.