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

BER Research Highlights


New Gene Discovery Clarifies Lignin Biosynthetic Pathway
Published: August 15, 2013
Posted: October 23, 2013

Lignin is integral to plant cell wall strength and function. It is also important in bioprocessing of plant biomass, because it inhibits deconstruction of plant cell wall sugar polymers such as cellulose and hemicellulose into sugar monomers—a key step in the production of biofuels. Lignin’s irregular polymeric structure has made it difficult to establish a clear biosynthetic pathway for its formation, making it a challenging target for genetic engineering of plants for enhanced bioprocessing of plant biomass. Recently, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) identified a new enzyme in the biosynthetic pathway of lignin monomers. The enzyme caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE) was found to catalyze a previously unidentified step in the biosynthesis of lignin monomers. Analysis of plant lines with a mutation in CSE demonstrated altered accumulation of lignin precursors consistent with its hypothesized activity and position in the lignin biosynthetic pathway. This enzymatic step is important, leading to a lignin that is less inhibitory to deconstruction than wild type lignin. In fact, one CSE mutant showed significantly more saccharification (78%) than wild type (18%), though plant growth was stunted. The discovery of this previously unknown enzymatic step highlights the success of genomics, global gene expression studies, data sharing, and bioinformatics, because the gene was found by searching publicly available gene expression databases for genes of unknown function that are co-expressed with other known lignin biosynthesis genes. This more complete knowledge of the lignin biosynthesis pathway will enable more intelligent engineering of lignin biosynthesis that may lead to more efficient bioprocessing without negatively impacting plant growth and viability. The GLBRC research was carried out in collaboration with an international team of scientists from Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Reference: Vanholme, R., I. Cesarino, K. Rataj, Y. Xiao, L. Sundin, G. Goeminne, H. Kim, J. Cross, K. Morreel, P. Araujo, L. Welsh, J. Haustraete, C. McClellan, B. Vanholme, J. Ralph, G. G. Simpson, C. Halpin, and W. Boerjan. 2013. “Caffeoyl Shikimate Esterase (CSE) is an Enzyme in the Lignin Biosynthetic Pathway,” Science 341, 1103–06. DOI: 10.1126/science.1241602. (Reference link)

Contact: Kent Peters, SC-23.2, (301) 903-5549
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Genomic Analysis and Systems Biology
  • Research Area: Plant Systems and Feedstocks, Plant-Microbe Interactions
  • Research Area: Sustainable Biofuels and Bioproducts
  • Research Area: DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRC)
  • Research Area: Biosystems Design
  • Research Area: Computational Biology, Bioinformatics, Modeling

Division: SC-23.2 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

May 10, 2019
Quantifying Decision Uncertainty in Water Management via a Coupled Agent-Based Model
Considering risk perception can improve the representation of human decision-making processes in age [more...]

May 09, 2019
Projecting Global Urban Area Growth Through 2100 Based on Historical Time Series Data and Future Scenarios
Study provides country-specific urban area growth models and the first dataset on country-level urba [more...]

May 05, 2019
Calibrating Building Energy Demand Models to Refine Long-Term Energy Planning
A new, flexible calibration approach improved model accuracy in capturing year-to-year changes in bu [more...]

May 03, 2019
Calibration and Uncertainty Analysis of Demeter for Better Downscaling of Global Land Use and Land Cover Projections
Researchers improved the Demeter model’s performance by calibrating key parameters and establi [more...]

Apr 22, 2019
Representation of U.S. Warm Temperature Extremes in Global Climate Model Ensembles
Representation of warm temperature events varies considerably among global climate models, which has [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)