"What this means is that plant scientists' view of the plant cell wall is at least partially wrong," said Mohnen, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and a member of UGA's Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. "There have been hints over the last 30 or 40 years that this link might exist, but no one has been able to prove it until now."
The discovery has many far-reaching implications beyond the ways it may change biology textbooks. As concerns about the reality of global climate change continue to rise, scientists are working diligently to find useful alternatives to fossil fuel-derived energy.
Biofuels created from cultivated crops like trees and grasses show great promise as a carbon-neutral source of ethanol, but converting plants into fuel that might be used to power automobiles or create heat for homes has proven difficult. Millions of years of evolution have made plants resistant to breakdown, and the sugars needed for fermentation into ethanol are locked inside their complex cell walls.
But Tan and Mohnen are hopeful that their discovery combined with additional research will reveal many of the secrets of plant cell wall architecture and function, making them easier to break down or perhaps opening the doors for engineered plants that will work better as a feedstock for the biofuels industry and as better agricultural products.
"The applications that will emerge from this discovery are enormous," said Mohnen. "It's all going to stem from a refined understanding of how plants are put together and how they are made, but once we know that, we can start modifying them to make them perform in ways that are most advantageous to us."
"We've only just scratched the surface," she said. "But once we investigate this furthe
|Contact: Debra Mohnen|
University of Georgia