Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Mutant Plants Produce Biofuel

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Mutant Plants Produce Biofuel

Article excerpt

Genetic mutations in plants could improve the conversion of biomass into biofuels, according to a research team supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. Researchers studied Arabidopsis thaliana, a common model plant in research studies, and its cellulose synthase membrane complex that produces the microfibrils of cellulose that form the basic structure of plant cell walls.

These ribbons of cellulose have a structure of crystallized sugars difficult for enzymes to break down for fermentation into alcohol for biofuels. And so Seth DeBolt, an associate professor of horticulture at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, assembled a research team to see if genetic mutations in the plant membrane complex could produce what the researchers call wounded cellulose, which is not as crystalline and therefore easier to break down into sugar.

The research team's paper, published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says developing techniques to modify the structure of plant cellulose in crops for better and easier conversion to fermentable sugars "could be transformative in a bio-based economy. …

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