In addition, a significant effort will be made to learn how to break down lignin more effectively. As one of the major components of wood, lignin acts as glue that holds together the components of plant cell walls and provides wood with its strength. However, lignin is difficult to break down and reduces the bioavailability of other cell wall components, resulting in a technical barrier to the use of woody materials in biofuel production.
"We believe we can begin to resolve the issues that have prevented wood-based biofuels and other petrochemical substitutes from being economically viable with some new strategies and the diversity of skills represented on the NARA team," said Lewis. "If we are successful, the potential to begin to replace the natural resources jobs lost in the region over the past several years is very high."
A second $40 million grant will go to the University of Washington to focus on utilizing poplar trees as a source material for sustainable biofuel production, since the trees are fast growing and can be harvested within a few years.
Lewis is Regents Professor and director of Washington State University's Institute of Biological Chemistry and a member of Scotland's National Academy of Science and Letters. He currently serves on ASPB's Public Affairs Committee and formerly was a monitoring editor for Plant Physiology.
|Contact: Adam Fagen|
American Society of Plant Biologists