Researcher in the Spotlight – new PlantLink coordinator Sofia Marmon!

-What is currently on top of your research agenda?

Low-lipase oat. I am working within the industrial research center ScanOats, where we research oat from several different perspectives. And I am working to develop low-lipase oat. Oat is very lipid rich for a cereal, and also have high innate activity of lipases, which are the enzymes breaking down these lipids. Post harvest this lipid degradation is unwanted, leading to rancidity problems, and it starts already when the oat is peeled. To avoid this, oat is quite harshly heat treated. We would like to sidestep this heat treatment and stop the lipid breakdown by developing oat with low lipase activity instead. It is currently not know which of all lipases that are responsible for this unwanted lipid breakdown, and that is one of the things we are working to find out. In my work I have screened a TILLING-population of oat from the company CropTailor and have found several lines with significantly decreased lipase activity. Now the work to identify which genetic changes have led to the decreased lipase activity has started, and we also wants to se how the decreased lipase activity affects the lipid breakdown during storage.

-Tell us about your latest publication?

I just submitted a manuscript from an earlier research project. This paper concerns lipid synthesis instead of lipid breakdown. More particularly, it is about the substrate specificity of several  triacylglycerol-forming enzymes in the biotechnology crop Camelina sativa. In an in vitro system we have fed the enzymes different combinations of radiolabeled substrates, showing that the three enzymes investigated are depending on the fatty acid composition of both their substrates. The knowledge of these enzymes specificity is of importance for all future work where one wants to produce seed oil with a specific lipid composition in Camelina. This work has been done in collaboration with my previous colleagues at the Department of Plant Breeding at SLU. 

-What led you into your particular field of research?

I am a molecular biologist, but did my PhD at the division of Food Science (Chalmers). I liked the food biotechnology, but still longed back to molecular biology, and have since worked with plant molecular biology and biochemistry. Now I am very happy to have a research project where I use my combined experiences from these fields, using molecular biology to solve food science problems.

-What are the implications of your research for the society?

The aim is to develop an oat variety that needs no heat treatment. If we are able to remove the heating step this will save energy, time and money. Furthermore, oat that hasn´t been heat treated could potentially be used as a raw material for new oat products with improved functionality, since the proteins haven’t been denatured by heat. 

-Finally, let´s say you got unlimited research funds; where would your research be five years from now?

Oooh, that would be nice. Well, firstly we would then have successfully identified which lipases are responsible for the lipid breakdown in post harvest oat and have developed the wished for low-lipase oat. But we would also know much more about these lipases specific involvement in lipid degradation, and their role in planta as well. There are so many questions to answer regarding these enzymes specifically, and lipid metabolism in seeds in general. Five years research will not be able to answer them all.