Scientists Create Low-Lignin Plants with Improved Potential for Biofuel Production
(ECNMag.com) Engineered enzyme alters cell wall composition in ways that could make it easier to convert plant biomass into biofuels
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have created a new enzyme that effectively “masks” the synthetic precursors of lignin, a plant cell wall component that makes plant biomass particularly difficult to break down. When it was expressed in plants, this enzyme substantially reduced lignin content in the cell wall and increased the digestibility of cell wall biomass, which should make it easier to convert plant biomass into biofuels. A paper describing the research will be published in The Plant Cell on July 31, 2012.
“We are excited about this study because it not only furthers our fundamental understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which lignin precursors are incorporated into cell walls, but also offers us a potential biotechnological solution in improving plant biomass digestibility,” said Brookhaven biologist Chang-Jun Liu. Liu collaborated on the research with Brookhaven scientists Kewei Zhang, Mohammed-Wadud Bhuiya, and Yuchen Miao, as well as a nuclear magnetic resonance team at the University of Wisconsin.
As a very rigid aromatic polymer and integral cell wall component, lignin prevents digestive enzymes from accessing the simple sugars of cellulose fibers, which are needed to produce useable fuels. Today’s industrial processing methods require cell wall biomass to be pretreated to remove lignin, significantly adding to the cost of biofuel production. Incorporating the new enzyme into plants could substantially reduce the cost of that step.
…The next step for the scientists is to test the enzyme’s function in poplar trees or other DOE-dedicated energy crops, to see if it will improve cell wall biomass digestibility by reducing lignin. READ MORE Abstract