Biofuels produced from plant lignocellulosic biomass offer a promising alternative to starch-based (e.g., corn) biofuels. However, the lignin component of plant cell walls makes plants difficult to breakdown and convert to biofuels. Researchers at the Oak Ridge BioEnergy Research Center (BESC) have identified a gene putatively encoding an enzyme involved in lignin biosynthesis in switchgrass, a major perennial feedstock for lignocellulosic ethanol production. Their results provide a potential target for modification in the development of switchgrass as a bioenergy crop. Modifying plant lignin content may adversely affect plant growth; however, since this newly discovered gene catalyzes a step late in the lignin biosynthetic pathway its modification may have less of an effect on overall plant structure. Reduced expression of this gene has been shown to reduce lignin levels in several non-grass plant species but until now little was known about its effects in bioenergy-relevant grasses. This research was carried out by BESC scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and their collaborators at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation and the University of Georgia.
Reference: Escamilla-Trevino, L. L., et al. 2009. "Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) Possesses a Divergent Family of Cinnamoyl CoA Reductases with Distinct Biochemical Properties," New Phytologist 185(1), 143-155.
Contact: Cathy Ronning, SC-23.2, (301) 903-9549
SC-33.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER
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