Background: Castor seeds are a major source for ricinoleate, an important industrial raw material. Genomics studies of castor plant will provide critical information for understanding seed metabolism, for effectively engineering ricinoleate production in transgenic oilseeds, or for genetically improving castor plants by eliminating toxic and allergic proteins in seeds.
Results: Full-length cDNAs are useful resources in annotating genes and in providing functional analysis of genes and their products. We constructed a full-length cDNA library from developing castor endosperm, and obtained 4,720 ESTs from 5'-ends of the cDNA clones representing 1,908 unique sequences. The most abundant transcripts are genes encoding storage proteins, ricin, agglutinin and oleosins. Several other sequences are also very numerous, including two acidic triacylglycerol lipases, and the oleate hydroxylase (FAH12) gene that is responsible for ricinoleate biosynthesis. The role(s) of the lipases in developing castor seeds are not clear, and co-expressing of a lipase and the FAH12 did not result in significant changes in hydroxy fatty acid accumulation in transgenic Arabidopsis seeds. Only one oleate desaturase (FAD2) gene was identified in our cDNA sequences. Sequence and functional analyses of the castor FAD2 were carried out since it had not been characterized previously. Overexpression of castor FAD2 in a FAH12-expressing Arabidopsis line resulted in decreased accumulation of hydroxy fatty acids in transgenic seeds.
Conclusion: Our results suggest that transcriptional regulation of FAD2 and FAH12 genes maybe one of the mechanisms that contribute to a high level of ricinoleate accumulation in castor endosperm. The full-length cDNA library will be used to search for additional genes that affect ricinoleate accumulation in seed oils. Our EST sequences will also be useful to annotate the castor genome, which whole sequence is being generated by shotgun sequencing at the Institute for Genome Research (TIGR).