Her hypotheses came from her discovery of a mutation in a dwarf Arabidopsis plant, a common model species used in scientific research. The mutant plant produces about 50 percent less cellulose than normal plants, causing the plant to be smaller and unable to reach maturity in the wild. Schrick went on to discover that mutations in several enzymes, required for the biosynthesis of sterols, affect the amount of cellulose produced.
"The sterol biosynthesis mutants have shown us that sterols are critical for cellulose synthesis, but we still don't understand why. We are using the latest tools to solve the problem at the molecular level, which will potentially lead to advances in the development of biofuels," she said.
Schrick is collaborating with several scientists nationally and internationally. Among them are Seth DeBolt at the University of Kentucky, a co-principle investigator on the grant, and Vincent Bulone at the Division of Glycosciences in the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.
Bulone was one of the first scientists to efficiently synthesize cellulose outside of the cell by gathering all the necessary components needed to build cellulose fibers in a test tube. The level of cellulose synthase activity achieved in Bulone's lab represents the highest proportion of cellulose reported from in vitro synthesis to date, Schrick said.
|Contact: Kathrin Schrick|
Kansas State University