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Breeding better grasses for food and fuel
Date:1/17/2012

re readily but without compromising the structure of the plant. We think that one way to do this might be to modify the genes that are involved in the formation of a molecule called xylan a crucial structural component of plants."

Xylan is an important, highly-abundant component of the tough walls that surround plant cells. It holds the other molecules in place and so helps to make a plant robust and rigid. This rigidity is important for the plant, but locks in the energy that we need to get at in order to produce bioenergy efficiently.

Grasses contain a substantially different form of xylan to other plants. The team wanted to find out what was responsible for this difference and so looked for genes that were turned on much more regularly in grasses than in the model plant Arabidopsis. Once they had identified the gene family in wheat and rice, called GT61, they were able transfer it into Arabidopsis, which in turn developed the grass form of xylan.

Dr Rowan Mitchell of Rothamsted Research continues "As well as adding the GT61 genes to Arabidopsis, we also turned off the genes in wheat grain. Both the Arabidopsis plants and the wheat grain appeared normal, despite the changes to xylan. This suggests that we can make modifications to xylan without compromising its ability to hold cell walls together. This is important as it would mean that there is scope to produce plant varieties that strike the right balance of being sturdy enough to grow and thrive, whilst also having other useful properties such as for biofuel production."

The tough, fibrous parts of plants are also an important component of our diet as fibre. Fibre has a well established role in a healthy diet, for example, by lowering blood cholesterol. The team have already demonstrated that changing GT61 genes in wheat grain affects the dietary fibre properties so this research also offers the possibility of breeding varieties of cereals for producing foods with enhanced
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Contact: Mike Davies
mike.davies@bbsrc.ac.uk
44-179-341-4694
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Source:Eurekalert

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