JBEI Researchers Genetically Engineering Plant Cell Walls to Ease Access to Sugars for Biofuel Production

JBEI researchers have genetically manipulated the Arabidopsis plant, making its cell wall easier to break down to extract sugars for use in biofuel production.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have genetically engineered plants whose cell walls can easily be broken down to extract sugars for use in biofuel production.

Using the Arabidopsis plant as its model, the JBEI researchers genetically manipulated the secondary cell wall of the plant to reduce its production of lignin while at the same time increasing sugar yields. By manipulating the structure of the cell walls, the plant’s sugar can be accessed more easily.

Lignin is a robust polymer which contains the polysaccharide sugars in plants that are used for producing biofuels. In the past, extracting sugars from lignin required the use of expensive and harsh chemicals at high temperatures, making the extraction process costly and environmentally prohibitive.

The researchers created an artificial positive feedback loop (APFL) to help improve biosynthesis of the plant’s secondary cell wall. By doing this, the researchers hoped to reduce the cell wall’s resistance to being broken down and increase the amount of sugar within the plant’s walls. When the APFL was applied to the Arabidopsis plant, lignin was reduced—enabling sugar to be accessed more easily—and the plant released more sugar in comparison to those naturally found in the wild.

Read the full article to learn more about JBEI’s development of genetically engineered plants.