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A New Use for Tobacco

As more and more people stop smoking, we may find a new use for tobacco in the future: as a biofuel.

Researchers have found a way to increase the oil in tobacco plant leaves, which may be the next step in using the plants for biofuel. According to researcher Vyacheslav Andrianov, tobacco can generate biofuel more efficiently than other agricultural crops. However, most of the oil is typically found in the seeds: tobacco seeds are composed of about 40% percent oil.

Although the seed oil has been tested for use as fuel for diesel engines, tobacco plants yield a modest amount of seeds, but Andrianov and his colleagues want to find ways to engineer tobacco plants so that their leaves express the oil too. This will also mean that tobacco farmers can still make a living, since like corn, tobacco is a heavily subsidized crop.

Andrianov says, "We have found ways to genetically engineer the plants so that their leaves express more oil. In some instances, the modified plants produced 20-fold more oil in the leaves. Tobacco is very attractive as a biofuel because the idea is to use plants that aren't used in food production."

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