The biosynthesis of ‘unusual’ fatty acids with structures that deviate from the common C16 and C18 fatty acids has evolved numerous times in the plant kingdom. Characterization of unusual fatty acid biosynthesis has enabled increased understanding of enzyme substrate properties, metabolic plasticity and oil functionality. Here, we report the identification of a novel pathway for hydroxy fatty acid biosynthesis based on the serendipitous discovery of two C24 fatty acids containing hydroxyl groups at the 7 and 18 carbon atoms as major components of the seed oil of Orychophragmus violaceus, a China-native Brassicaceae. Biochemical and genetic evidence are presented for premature or ‘discontinuous’ elongation of a 3-OH intermediate by a divergent 3-ketoacyl-CoA (coenzyme A) synthase during a chain extension cycle as the origin of the 7-OH group of the dihydroxy fatty acids. Tribology studies revealed superior high-temperature lubricant properties for O. violaceus seed oil compared to castor oil, a high-performance vegetable oil lubricant. These findings provide a direct pathway for designing a new class of environmentally friendly lubricants and unveil the potential of O. violaceus as a new industrial oilseed crop.
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