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FOLIUM is a collaborative project between LBNL, UC Berkeley, JGI and The Kentucky Tobacco Research & Development Center (KTRDC) at Univ. of Kentucky and is funded by ARPA-E. The FOLIUM team, which consists of a bunch of unusually attractive people, can be viewed the here. The FOLIUM concept is to develop tobacco as a platform for foliar production of advanced hydrocarbon fuels (Fig.1). This entails:
1. Install pathways for hydrocarbon biosynthesis and accumulation in tobacco leaves via chloroplast and nuclear transformation. 2. Optimize carbon flux toward hydrocarbon biosynthesis. 3. Enhance photosynthetic light efficiency and CO2 uptake. 4. Improve planting, cultivation and harvesting practices of tobacco.
In the context of foliar production of oil and oil-based biofuels, tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) emerges as a system of great potential:
1. Tobacco is an outstanding industrial biomass crop with large leaf surface area, and a high leaf-to-stem ratio. 2. It can be coppiced to generate multiple harvests per year. 3. Large-scale agricultural infrastructure for planting, growing, harvesting and handling tobacco leaves is in place. 4. The tobacco farmers would benefit by using tobacco as a biofuel crop plant. 5. Tobacco is already cultivated in large land tracts of the US and many countries overseas. It is grown in over 100 countries worldwide, can be cultivated on marginal land unsuitable for food crops, and has a wider geographic geographic range than either corn or sugar cane. 6. Tobacco is not part of the food supply chain. Thus biosynthesis of oil-based biofuels in tobacco leaves, as opposed to oil seeds in soybean or canola, avoids the potential problem of competition with the food/feed sector. 7. Tobacco is highly amenable to genetic and molecular manipulations of both the nuclear and plastid genomes. With 500 to 10,000 copies of the plastome per cell in tobacco leaves, the possibility exist for very high overexpression of selected genes.