Reducing lignin to improve biomass

By Staff | October 08, 2012

Rather than working to more efficiently break down lignin, several scientists are working to reduce the quantity of it produced by plants.

University of Georgia researchers partnered with researchers at the U.S. DOE-funded BioEnergy Science Center to identify a previously uncharacterized gene, GXMT1, which plays a major role in cell wall development of Arabidopis plants. The gene is responsible for a key step in the development of xylan, a polymer that makes woody biomass resistant to biofuel conversion.

Scientists at the DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have created a new enzyme that masks the synthetic precursors of lignin. When expressed in plants, the enzyme substantially reduces lignin content in the cell wall, increasing the digestibility of cell wall biomass. The new enzyme reduced the lignin content of Arabidopsis plants by up to 24 percent, leading to a 21 percent increase in the release of cell wall sugars.