The availability of methods to fractionate non-green plastids and to prepare their limiting envelope membranes [Alban, Joyard & Douce (1988) Plant Physiol. 88, 709-717] allowed a detailed analysis of the biosynthesis of lysophosphatidic acid, phosphatidic acid, diacylglycerol and monogalactosyl-diacylglycerol (MGDG) in two different types of non-green starch-containing plastids: plastids isolated from cauliflower buds and amyloplasts isolated from sycamore cells. An enzyme [acyl-ACP (acyl carrier protein):sn-glycerol 3-phosphate acyltransferase) recovered in the soluble fraction of non-green plastids transfers oleic acid from oleoyl-ACP to the sn-1 position of sn-glycerol 3-phosphate to form lysophosphatidic acid. Then a membrane-bound enzyme (acyl-ACP:monoacyl-sn-glycerol 3-phosphate acyltransferase), localized in the envelope membrane, catalyses the acylation of the available sn-2 position of 1-oleoyl-sn-glycerol 3-phosphate by palmitic acid from palmitoyl-ACP. Therefore both the soluble phase and the envelope membranes are necessary for acylation of sn-glycerol 3-phosphate. The major difference between cauliflower (Brassica oleracea) and sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) membranes is the very low level of phosphatidate phosphatase activity in sycamore envelope membrane. Therefore, very little diacylglycerol is available for MGDG synthesis in sycamore, compared with cauliflower. These findings are consistent with the similarities and differences described in lipid metabolism of mature chloroplasts from ‘C18:3’ and ‘C16:3’ plants (those with MGDG containing C18:3 and C16:3 fatty acids). Sycamore contains only C18 fatty acids in MGDG, and the envelope membranes from sycamore amyloplasts have a low phosphatidate phosphatase activity and therefore the enzymes of the Kornberg-Pricer pathway have a low efficiency of incorporation of sn-glycerol 3-phosphate into MGDG. By contrast, cauliflower contains MGDG with C16:3 fatty acid, and the incorporation of sn-glycerol 3-phosphate into MGDG by the enzymes associated with envelope membranes is not limited by the phosphatidate phosphatase. These results demonstrate that: (1) non-green plastids employ the same biosynthetic pathway as that previously established for chloroplasts (the formation of glycerolipids is a general property of all plastids, chloroplasts as well as non-green plastids), (2) the envelope membranes are the major structure responsible for the biosynthesis of phosphatidic acid, diacylglycerol and MGDG, and (3) the enzymes of the envelope Kornberg-Pricer pathway have the same properties in non-green starch-containing plastids as in mature chloroplasts from C16:3 and C18:3 plants.

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