Agronomy and Horticulture, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version



New Phytologist (2023) doi: 10.1111/nph.18835


Open access.


  • Central metabolism produces amino and fatty acids for protein and lipids that establish seed value. Biosynthesis of storage reserves occurs in multiple organelles that exchange central intermediates including two essential metabolites, malate, and pyruvate that are linked by malic enzyme. Malic enzyme can be active in multiple subcellular compartments, partitioning carbon and reducing equivalents for anabolic and catabolic requirements. Prior studies based on isotopic labeling and steady-state metabolic flux analyses indicated malic enzyme provides carbon for fatty acid biosynthesis in plants, though genetic evidence confirming this role is lacking. We hypothesized that increasing malic enzyme flux would alter carbon partitioning and result in increased lipid levels in soybeans.

  • Homozygous transgenic soybean plants expressing Arabidopsis malic enzyme alleles, targeting the translational products to plastid or outside the plastid during seed development, were verified by transcript and enzyme activity analyses, organelle proteomics, and transient expression assays. Protein, oil, central metabolites, cofactors, and acyl-acyl carrier protein (ACPs) levels were quantified overdevelopment.

  • Amino and fatty acid levels were altered resulting in an increase in lipids by 0.5–2% of seed biomass (i.e. 2–9% change in oil).

  • Subcellular targeting of a single gene product in central metabolism impacts carbon and reducing equivalent partitioning for seed storage reserves in soybeans.