Identification of genes involved in shea butter biosynthesis from Vitellaria paradoxa fruits through transcriptomics and functional heterologous expression

Yongjun Wei, Boyang Ji, Verena Siewers, Deyang Xu, Barbara Ann Halkier, Jens Nielsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) is one economically important plant species that mainly distributes in West Africa. Shea butter extracted from shea fruit kernels can be used as valuable products in the food and cosmetic industries. The most valuable composition in shea butter was one kind of triacylglycerol (TAG), 1,3-distearoyl-2-oleoyl-glycerol (SOS, C18:0–C18:1–C18:0). However, shea butter production is limited and little is known about the genetic information of shea tree. In this study, we tried to reveal genetic information of shea tree and identified shea TAG biosynthetic genes for future shea butter production in yeast cell factories. First, we measured lipid content, lipid composition, and TAG composition of seven shea fruits at different ripe stages. Then, we performed transcriptome analysis on two shea fruits containing obviously different levels of SOS and revealed a list of TAG biosynthetic genes potentially involved in TAG biosynthesis. In total, 4 glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase (GPAT) genes, 8 lysophospholipid acyltransferase (LPAT) genes, and 11 diacylglycerol acyltransferase (DGAT) genes in TAG biosynthetic pathway were predicted from the assembled transcriptome and 14 of them were cloned from shea fruit cDNA. Furthermore, the heterologous expression of these 14 potential GPAT, LPAT, and DGAT genes in Saccharomyces cerevisiae changed yeast fatty acid and lipid profiles, suggesting that they functioned in S. cerevisiae. Moreover, two shea DGAT genes, VpDGAT1 and VpDGAT7, were identified as functional DGATs in shea tree, showing they might be useful for shea butter (SOS) production in yeast cell factories.

Original languageEnglish
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)3727-3736
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Shea butter
  • Shea transcriptomic
  • Synthetic biology
  • TAG biosynthetic pathway
  • Yeast cell factories

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