Seed Lipids

Science  02 Dec 1966:
Vol. 154, Issue 3753, pp. 1140-1149
DOI: 10.1126/science.154.3753.1140


Many of the newly discovered seedoil acids have reactive or unusual functional groups or other facets of molecular structure that permit their ready differentiation from oleic, linoleic, linolenic, and the other most prevalent saturated and unsaturated long-chain fatty acids. The recognition and availability of the new acids, coupled with methods that make detection and determination easy, will help studies of lipid biosynthesis in the plant and of lipid metabolism and utilization in animals, and will stimulate more studies in depth on the fine points of seedlipid structure. Correlations of structural patterns in seed lipids of particular groups of plants with classical taxonomic categories will permit clarifications, raise needed questions concerning classifications, and accelerate research in chemotaxonomy and phylogenetics. Seed lipids are particularly well suited for establishing relationships among plants because of their great variety in structure compared to the more limited structural types of amino acids, sugars, purines, and many other plant substances. The newly characterized seed oils are potentially important industrial raw materials whenever they come from agronomically promising plant species.

The molecular structures of seed triglycerides have major influence on their physical properties and therefore advances in knowledge in that sphere have practical implications. For example, the unusual characteristics of cocoa butter that make it so valuable for food and confectionery use are attributed to the specific arrangement of fatty acids it its triglycerides. The glycerides are almost all 2-oleic-1,3-disaturated acid triglycerides. The physical characteristics of lard are advantageously changed by catalytically rearranging fatty acyl groups among the glycerides initially in the fat to achieve a more nearly random distribution, followed sometimes by further fractionation to remove more saturated glycerides. Through this change of glyceride structures a preferred, less grainy texture is achieved. Future studies to understand, unravel, and control seed-oil triglyceride structures will be significant in developing margarines of improved texture and "feel," cocoa-butter substitutes, and many other products. I expect rapid, fruitful progress in seedlipid research and utilization to continue. Such progress will be aided by investigation of seed lipids from a large number and variety of different plants to find new types of fatty acids, to find new sources of familiar oils, and to obtain more data regarding their glyceride structures.