WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A newly defined biochemical pathway in plants may provide the scientific tools to design plants that will yield larger quantities of alternative transportation fuels than currently can be produced, according to Purdue University researchers.
The pathway moves materials that determine cell shape and size through a system of signaling proteins, said Dan Szymanski, a plant geneticist and cellular biologist. By learning more about the growth and development process, it may be possible to engineer plants with improved properties such as cell walls that are more massive or are more easily fermented in the biofuel process.
"We expect that cell wall material will to be a major source of biomass from plants designated for biofuel production," Szymanski said. "We need to learn more about how plant cells control the quality and amount of cell wall material."
He and his research team investigated plant growth and cell wall development from several scientific approaches in determining the cascade of events that leads to changes in the cell wall. They discovered that a protein called "SPIKE1" directs the protein signaling pathway. They report their findings in "Early Edition," the online publication of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study also will be published in the journal's March 11 print issue.
"Plant cells grow by expansion, which is cell wall synthesis coupled with an increase in cell size," Szymanski said. "The key questions we need to answer in trying to create plants more valuable for biofuel production center on understanding how plants integrate metabolism, cell growth and biomass production."
To answer those questions and be able to engineer plants for improved growth of biomass for alternative fuels, Szymanski and other scientists must investigate molecular function.
"Our research is focused on understanding signaling mechanisms," he said. "How d
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