BER launches Environmental System Science Program. Visit our new website under construction!

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

New Type of Lignin Discovered in Vanilla Plant
Published: January 17, 2012
Posted: February 23, 2012

Found within the plant cell wall, lignin is a complex polymeric compound that provides the plant with both mechanical support and protection from pests and pathogens. However, the structural rigidity of this compound also inhibits efficient conversion of the sugars within plant cell walls into biofuels, making lignin a major obstacle to the efficient production of biofuels from cellulosic feedstocks. Three types of lignin are usually found in nature: H-, G-, and S-lignins. They are synthesized by polymerization of their respective monolignol units. However, lignin biosynthesis can be relatively flexible, sometimes allowing different and more unusual monolignols to be incorporated. Researchers at the DOE BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) and DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) report the identification and characterization of a new type of polymer, C-lignin, composed almost exclusively of caffeyl units. Detected in the Vanilla orchid, a few related orchids, and some cactus species, this unique new lignin was found only in the seed coats, with more conventional lignins observed in other plant tissues. These results may lead to a greater understanding of the lignin biosynthetic pathway, as well as new approaches for engineering biomass that can be more easily and efficiently digested for conversion into biofuels.

Reference: Chen, F., Y. Tobimatsu, D. Havkin-Frenkeld, R. A. Dixon, and J. Ralph. 2012. "A Polymer of Caffeyl Alcohol in Plant Seeds," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109(5), 1772-77. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1120992109. (Reference link)

Contact: Cathy Ronning, SC-23.2, (301) 903-9549
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Plant Systems and Feedstocks, Plant-Microbe Interactions
  • Research Area: Sustainable Biofuels and Bioproducts
  • Research Area: DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRC)

Division: SC-33.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Mar 23, 2021
Molecular Connections from Plants to Fungi to Ants
Lipids transfer energy and serve as an inter-kingdom communication tool in leaf-cutter ants&rsqu [more...]

Mar 19, 2021
Microbes Use Ancient Metabolism to Cycle Phosphorus
Microbial cycling of phosphorus through reduction-oxidation reactions is older and more widespre [more...]

Feb 22, 2021
Warming Soil Means Stronger Microbe Networks
Soil warming leads to more complex, larger, and more connected networks of microbes in those soi [more...]

Jan 27, 2021
Labeling the Thale Cress Metabolites
New data pipeline identifies metabolites following heavy isotope labeling.

Analysis [more...]

Aug 31, 2020
Novel Bacterial Clade Reveals Origin of Form I Rubisco

  • All plant biomass is sourced from the carbon-fixing enzyme Rub [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)