Plant Science

Boosting Biofuels

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Science  07 Jan 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6013, pp. 11
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6013.11-a

The cell walls of plant stems that are stiffened by lignocellulose not only support an upright growth habit but are also coincidentally used as the starting materials for biofuel production. Studying Arabidopsis and Medicago, Wang et al. now show that WRKY transcription factors control the stiffening of cell walls in some tissues. The authors identified mutations in Medicago that resulted in plants with increased lignin content. Related genes were identified in Arabidopsis and poplar. In Arabidopsis, cells in the central pith of the stem normally have thin cell walls. Cells in the next layer out have thicker cells walls filled with lignin and cellulose. Deletion of WRKY transcription factors resulted in pith cells whose cell walls are thickened with lignin and cellulose; the resulting plants deliver more biomass per plant. Cell walls in other layers of the stem were unaffected, and overall growth of the plant appeared normal. Such insights into the molecular regulation of lignocellulose formation point to a possible way to increase biomass yield for biofuel production.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 22338 (2010).

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