Biotech Updates

Discovery Could Increase Value of Non-Food Crops for Industries

January 7, 2011

With global efforts to reduce carbon emission caused by burning fossil fuels, plants are being looked at as a source of renewable biofuels. Plants with denser biomass are potential sources of biofuels, electricity and other advanced materials like carbon fiber. Richard Dixon, director of the Noble Foundation's Plant Biology Division and postdoctoral fellow Huanzhong Wang discovered a gene that controls the production of lignin in the central part of the model plants Arabidopsis and Medicago truncatula.

Lignin is a component of plant cell walls that provide strength allowing plants to stand upright. Once the gene is removed in the system, a dramatic increase in the production of biomass, such as lignin occur throughout the stem. Target plants can now be developed with reduced lignin, such as those grazed by animals, or with increased lignin in non-food plants such as switchgrass to produce biomass.

"This discovery opens up new possibilities for harnessing and increasing the potential of crops by expanding their ranges of use. These plants will be part of the next generation of agriculture which not only impacts food, but many other vital industries as well," said Dixon.

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