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

BER Research Highlights


Probing the Natural Variation in Poplar Trees to Increase the Yield of Sugars for Biofuels
Published: April 07, 2011
Posted: April 08, 2011

A promising source of renewable “next generation” fuels is from the lignocellulosic biomass of poplar trees, from which sugars can be extracted and fermented to produce biofuels. These sugars, in the form of cellulose and hemicellulose, are embedded within lignin, a complex polymer composed of varying ratios of phenylpropanoid subunits. The rigid structure of lignin is a critical component of the plant cell wall, but this same trait impedes extraction of the sugars. Researchers at the DOE BioEnergy Research Center (BESC) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory measured lignin content and composition in a large (1100 individual) sample of undomesticated poplar trees and found that variation between individuals was large and significant. Using a high-throughput screening method, samples were tested for total sugar release with or without various pretreatments. The total amounts of sugars released varied widely among samples, and, as expected, a strong negative correlation between sugar release and lignin content was observed. However, the large data set allowed the researchers to discover critical exceptions to the overall correlation. The negative correlation did not apply to trees with a certain composition of lignin, and, for some trees with typical lignin content and composition, a very high volume of sugars were released. These results indicate that although recalcitrance to sugar release is partly determined by lignin content, lignin composition and other factors are also critical, and underscores the need for further research on cell wall structure in order to rationally design high-yielding bioenergy feedstocks for large-scale industrial use. The research has just been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA).

Reference: Studer, M.H., M.F. Davis, R.W. Sykes, B.H. Davison, M. Keller , G.A. Tuskan, and C.E. Wyman. 2011. Lignin Content in Natural Populus Variants Affects Sugar Release." PNAS doi:10.1073/pnas.1009252108.

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

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

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)