A new enzyme
For many years researchers have been studying the lignin biosynthetic pathway in plants. Increasing insight into this process can lead to new strategies to improve the accessibility of the cellulose molecules. Using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, an international research collaboration between VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), the James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) has now identified a new enzyme in the lignin biosynthetic pathway. This enzyme, caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE), fulfils a central role in lignin biosynthesis. Knocking-out the CSE gene, resulted in 36% less lignin per gram of stem material. Additionally, the remaining lignin had an altered structure. As a result, the direct conversion of cellulose to glucose from un-pretreated plant biomass increased four-fold, from 18% in the control plants to 78% in the cse mutant plants.
These new insights, published this week online in Science Express, can now be used to screen natural populations of energy crops such as poplar, eucalyptus, switchgrass or other grass species for a non-functional CSE gene. Alternatively, the expression of CSE can be genetically engineered in energy crops. A reduced amount of lignin or an adapted lignin structure can contribute to a more efficient conversion of biomass to energy.
This research was co-financed by the multidisciplinary research partnership 'Biotechnology for a sustainable economy' of Ghent University, the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the 'Global Climate and Energy
|Contact: Kris Van der Beken|
VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)