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'Unzipping' poplars' biofuel potential
Date:4/3/2014

ing monomers molecular glue of sorts with bonds that are easier to break apart. Next, Shawn Mansfield with the University of British Columbia successfully put that gene into poplars. The team then determined that the plants not only created the monomers but also incorporated them into the lignin polymer. This introduced weak links into the lignin backbone and transformed the poplars' natural lignin into a more easily degradable version.

"We can now move beyond tinkering with the known genes in the lignin pathway to using exotic genes to alter the lignin polymer in predesigned but plant-compatible ways," Ralph said. "This approach should pave the way to generating more valuable biomass that can be processed in a more energy efficient manner for biofuels and paper products."

The research also is noteworthy for being the direct result of a collaboration funded by the GLBRC, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and created to make transformational breakthroughs in new cellulosic biofuels technology. Realizing the collaborative project called for a wide array of expertise, from finding the gene and introducing it into the plants, to proving, via newly designed analyses, that the plant was utilizing the new monomers in making its lignin.

"I guarantee that John Ralph and I would never have met without the GLBRC," Wilkerson said. "When I first met him at a group retreat, I knew very little about lignin. But I ended up sharing some techniques I'd been using for totally different projects that I thought might be useful for his 'zip-lignin' research. The collaboration really grew from there."


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Contact: Layne Cameron
layne.cameron@cabs.msu.edu
517-353-8819
Michigan State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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