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Iowa State, Ames Lab chemists aid study of mutated plants that may be better for biofuels
Date:2/28/2012

AMES, Iowa Genetic mutations to cellulose in plants could improve the conversion of cellulosic biomass into biofuels, according to a research team that included two Iowa State University chemists.

The team recently published its findings in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Mei Hong, an Iowa State professor of chemistry and an associate of the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, and Tuo Wang, an Iowa State graduate student in chemistry, contributed their expertise in solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to the study.

The study was led by Seth DeBolt, an associate professor of horticulture at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Chris Somerville, the Philomathia Professor of Alternative Energy and director of the Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, is also a contributing author. The research project was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Researchers studied Arabidopsis thaliana, a common model plant in research studies, and its cellulose synthase membrane complex that produces the microfibrils of cellulose that surround all plant cells and form the basic structure of plant cell walls.

These ribbons of cellulose are made of crystallized sugars. The crystal structure makes it difficult for enzymes to break down the cellulose to the sugars that can be fermented into alcohol for biofuels. And so DeBolt assembled a research team to see if genetic mutations in the plant membrane complex could produce what the researchers have called "wounded" cellulose that's not as crystalline and therefore easier to break down into sugar.

Hong, who had done previous studies of plant cell walls, used her lab's solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance technology to study the cell walls created by the mutated system. The goals were to collect as much information a
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Contact: Mei Hong
mhong@iastate.edu
515-294-3521
Iowa State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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