Crop Biotech Update

Evolution of Lignin in Ancient Plants

May 30, 2008

Researchers from Purdue University have discovered that syringyl lignin, fundamental building blocks of cells in flowering plants, have evolved independently, yet almost identically, on a separate branch of the evolutionary tree in lycophytes; pretty much similar to how flight arose separately in bats and birds. Lycophytes are an ancient group of plant that arose around 400 million years ago. It was recently discovered that these plants also contain syringyl lignin, an important part of the plants' scaffolding and water-transport systems, which was considered to be restricted in flowering plants.

Lead researcher Clint Chapple and his colleagues studied the lycophyte Selaginella, an ornamental plant commonly known as spike moss. The discovery they made might be useful in manipulating lignin deposition in plants for biofuel production. Engineering plants that expresses syringyl lignin could allow easier breakdown of cellulose. The study may also provide insights for improving agricultural traits of important crops.

Scientists from the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) are currently sequencing the Selaginella genome.

Read the full article at http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111597&org=olpa&from=news The Paper published by PNAS is available at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/0801696105v1