Discovery of new enzyme could yield better plants for biofuel
Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center
August 15, 2013
For nearly a decade, scientists have thought that they understood how plants produce lignin — a compound that gives plant tissues their structure and sturdiness, but can limit their use as a source of biofuels.
Now, thanks to a collaboration involving the U.S. Department of Energy Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) and several international institutions, researchers have identified a new gene responsible for producing a previously unknown enzyme that is central to lignin synthesis. The breakthrough, which was recently published in Science, could improve the conversion of cellulosic — or nonfood — biomass to biofuels.
"This is the first new gene in the [lignin] pathway that's been discovered in ten years," says John Ralph, a professor in the UW-Madison departments of biochemistry and biological systems engineering and the leader of the GLBRC Plants Research Area.
"Any time you find a new gene, you not only better understand the biochemical pathways in which the gene is involved; you also discover new ways of perturbing those pathways," Ralph says.