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UGA discovery changes how scientists think about plant cell wall formation
Date:11/22/2011

Athens, Ga. University of Georgia researchers have discovered that two proteins come together in an unexpected way to make a carbohydrate, a chain of sugar molecules, in plant cell walls. This fundamental discovery changes the way scientists think about how plant cell walls are made and opens a new door to converting plants to biofuels and other carbon-based products.

In 2006, the UGA research team, led by Debra Mohnen, a faculty member in the UGA Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, discovered GAUT1, the first protein shown to synthesize pectin, a major component of the plant cell wall. Now Mohnen's team has shown that GAUT1 and a genetically similar protein called GAUT7, which does not appear to have pectin-synthesizing activity by itself, form a critical part of a pectin-synthesizing protein complex.

Moreover, the two-protein complex may serve as a "core" complex that associates with additional pectin-synthesizing proteins to form still larger carbohydrate-synthesizing complexes in the plant cells.

The findings signify a "critical step in changing our view of how the plant cell wall is made," said principal investigator Mohnen, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. The study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mohnen also is a member of the BioEnergy Science Center, one of three Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Centers established by the DOE's Office of Science in 2007. The centers support multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research teams pursuing the fundamental scientific breakthroughs needed to make the production of cellulosic biofuels derived from non-food plant fiber cost-effective on a national scale.

"Many people have overlooked the importance of pectins because they think pectins aren't important in the thicker and stronger secondary plant cell wall," said Mohnen. But, she said, "b
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Contact: Debra Mohnen
dmohnen@ccrc.uga.edu
706-542-4458
University of Georgia
Source:Eurekalert

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