Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Identify Plant Enzyme that can Boost Production of Biomass Feedstocks

August 28, 2013

Scientists from the James Hutton Institute and the University of Dundee in Scotland; Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) and Ghent University in Belgium; and the University of Wisconsin in USA have identified a new enzyme caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE) which has a central role in lignin biosynthesis. Knocking-out the CSE gene resulted in 36% less lignin per gram of stem material. Lignin is a kind of cement that embeds  sugar molecules and thereby gives firmness to plants. Plants with a lower amount of lignin or with lignin that is easier to break down can be a real benefit for biofuel and bioplastics production.

These new insights can now be used to screen natural populations of energy crops such as poplar, eucalyptus, switchgrass or other grass species for a non-functional CSE gene. Alternatively, the expression of CSE can be genetically engineered in energy crops.

See the James Hutton Institute's news release at http://www.hutton.ac.uk/news/gene-discovery-opens-new-possibilities-biofuels. Access the study's full journal article at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2013/08/14/science.1241602.