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New lignin pathway discovered for potential bioenergy production

A multi-university study into biomass-to-energy has claimed to have found a new lignin gene which could aid conversion.

A research project involving universities in Scotland, the US and Belgium used the model plant Arabidopsis thanliana and identified an enzyme called caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE), which fulfils a central role in lignin biosynthesis.

The research says by removing the CSE gene resulted in 36% less lignin per gram of stem material. Conversely, the direct conversion of cellulose to glucose from non-pretreated plant biomass increased four-fold.

‘This finding was quite unexpected because the lignin pathway has been widely examined and it had been thought, for the past decade or so, to be completely mapped,’ the University of Dundee’s Claire Halpin was quoted as saying.

‘It looks like it could be very useful in trying to manipulate plant biomass to generate biofuels and other chemicals from non-food crops. Our studies showed that Arabidopsis with mutated CSE were able to release around 75% more sugars from cellulose without needing harsh chemical treatments.’

Haplin adds these new insights could now be used to screen natural populations of energy crops, such as poplar, eucalyptus and switchgrass, or other grass species for a non-functional CSE gene.