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Plant toughness: Key to cracking biofuels?
Date:2/21/2012

Stanford, CA Along with photosynthesis, the plant cell wall is one of the features that most set plants apart from animals. A structural molecule called cellulose is necessary for the manufacture of these walls. Cellulose is synthesized in a semi-crystalline state that is essential for its function in the cell wall function, but the mechanisms controlling its crystallinity are poorly understood. New research from a team including current and former Carnegie scientists David Ehrhardt (Carnegie), Ryan Gutierrez (Carnegie), Chris Somerville (U.C. Berkeley), Seth Debolt (U. Kentucky), Dario Bonetta (U. Ontario) and Jose Estevez (U. de Buenos Aires) reveals key information about this process, as well as a means to reduce cellulose crystallinity, which is a key stumbling block in biofuels development. Their work is published online by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for the week of February 20-24.

A plant's cell wall serves several essential functions including mechanical support: Allowing the plant to withstand the onslaughts of wind and weather, and permitting it to grow to great heights-- hundreds of feet for trees like the giant Redwood--and providing an essential barrier against invading pathogens. The cell wall is also the source of materials that have long been utilized by humans, including wood and cotton, in addition to serving as a potential source of biofuel energy.

Cellulose is the primary constituent of the cell wall and as such is the most abundant biopolymer on the planet. It is also the key molecule providing the cell wall its essential mechanical properties.

To address the question of its manufacture in plant cells, the research team, led by Seth DeBolt of the University of Kentucky, focused on different aspects of cellulose-synthesizing complexes.

Working in conjunction with Chris Somerville, Ehrhardt developed a method for observing this complex by tagging it with a fluorescent marker
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Contact: David Ehrhardt
ehrhardt@stanford.edu
650-325-1521 x261
Carnegie Institution
Source:Eurekalert

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