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A research team led by the University of Georgia has discovered that manipulation of the same gene in poplar trees and switchgrass produced plants that grow better and are more efficiently converted to biofuels.
Due to the composition of plant cell walls, plant material is not efficiently broken down or deconstructed to the basic sugars that are converted to biofuels.
Paper - Today - Nature - Biotechnology - Researchers
In a paper published today in Nature Biotechnology, the researchers report that reducing the activity of a specific gene called GAUT4 leads to lower levels of pectin, a component of plant cell walls responsible for their resistance to deconstruction.
"It's expensive to produce biofuels," said lead author Debra Mohnen, a member of UGA's Complex Carbohydrate Research Center and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "It takes a lot of energy to break open plant biomass, with a pretreatment process involving chemicals, high temperatures and enzymes that break complex polymers into smaller sugars that can be turned into fuels. Even relatively modest increases in the efficiency of deconstruction can be important on an industrial scale."
Mohnen - Team - Researchers - Institutions - Expression
Mohnen and a team of researchers at six institutions found that reducing the expression of GAUT4 in poplar and switchgrass led to a 70 percent reduction in pectin content and produced a 15 percent increase in sugar release. Unexpectedly, it also led to an increase in the growth of both plant species, an added benefit.
"We increased the amount of biomass yield of field-grown switchgrass sixfold, and we increased the amount of ethanol yield sevenfold per plant," Mohnen said. "We also observed increased growth and sugar release in poplar."
Increase - Plant - Yield - Sugar - Greenhouse
The increase in plant yield and sugar release—demonstrated in both greenhouse and field trials for switchgrass—bodes well for creating biofuels, an important alternative to fossil fuels. Switchgrass and poplar previously were identified by the U.S....
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