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Crop Biotech Update

Mutated Plants for Better Biofuels

March 2, 2012

A research team composed of State universities in the United States (Iowa, Kentucky, and Berkeley, California) led by Seth de Bolt have found that genetic mutation of cellulose in plants could improve the conversion of cellulosic biomass into biofuels. Using Arabidopsis thaliana, the team studied the cellulose synthase membrane complex that produces microfibrils of cellulose that surround all plant cells as well as form the basic structure of plant cell walls.

Cellulose is made of crystallized structures which hinders the activity of enzymes to break the cellulose to the sugars which are the substrate for alcohol fermentation. Mutation of the gene that codes for the enzyme was conducted and through magnetic resonance technology, the cellulose structure was determined.

Mei Hong of Iowa State found that the crystalline cellulose content had decreased in the mutant cell wall. They become thinner when compared to the normal plants and there were also an intermediate degree of crystal structure observed. The plants now became more efficiently acted upon by enzymes in alcohol production .

"What this work suggests, in very broad terms, is that it is possible to modify cellulose structure by genetic methods, so that potentially one can more easily extract cellulose from plants as energy sources," Hong said.

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