“At first, we thought it was a mistake, because the enzyme does not need to bind DNA to perform its known function.”
A team of US scientists have made a discovery that could prove to be pivotal to the future success of biofuels and bio-based products. Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee revealed that it had found a new enzyme property that reportedly makes the production of bio-based materials more straightforward, dispelling the theory that the enzyme in question had just one function: to produce the amino acids that aids the plants’ survival.
Now, the team appear to have blown that wide-open by revealing previously unknown mutations that, if used, would reportedly “squeeze more potential” out of certain plants, unlocking the viability of biofuels and bio-products. For the purpose of their research, the scientists focused their efforts solely on the poplar tree without bringing it any ill effects.
The laboratory’s findings show that the gene responsible for making amino acids also regulates the function of genes involved in producing lignin. Lignin fills the spaces in plant cell walls to make them more robust; high levels of the organic polymer in plants and trees are unwelcome when producing biofuel because it makes extracting the required materials far more difficult
By developing a strain of plant that has lower levels of lignin, Oak Ridge (@ORNL) can lay claim to a variety that is far more suitable for use in biofuel production.
The tests were carried out by the laboratory’s Center for Bioenergy Innovation (CBI) department, and one of its lead scientists, Wellington Muchero [in right of picture], said it was thought initially that they had completely misinterpreted the results. “At first, we thought it was a mistake, because the enzyme does not need to bind DNA to perform its known function,” said Muchero. “We repeated the experiment multiple times and kept seeing evidence in the data that the same gene involved in making amino acids also regulates the function of genes involved in producing lignin.”
The CBI said the potentially game-changing discovery, which allowed them to subtly amend how lignin is produced without killing the plant, would also work with other plant species, not just poplars. “This enzyme’s unique behaviour contrasts with conventional wisdom in the plant community,” said Muchero. “While we do not know how this new function came about in poplar, we now know that this enzyme exhibits the same behaviour in other plant species.”
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