Thursday, November 12, 2009

Biofuel production using plant gene mapping techniques.

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Energy demands across the world are increasing day by day and age-old fossil fuels that are near extinction are threatening the energy market. The need for alternate sources of energy is the need of the day. For quite some time, researchers have worked to obtain fuels from food based raw materials. Leading to a food crisis, they have modified the fuel production by using alternate biomass sources and avoiding food stocks. Second generation fuels are currently focusing on utilization of waste biomass to convert it into ethanol for using it as biofuels. Some of them though are trying to create a family tree of genes expressing the plants in terms of its woodiness. Toward such a study, scientists at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) have exposed evidence that may help them engineer plants more amenable to biofuel production.

The research scientists headed by lead researcher and biologist Chang-Jun Liu from the division of molecular and cell biology, biology department at BNL have laid the foundation for understanding the tree genes' evolutionary and structural properties and for a broader exploration of their roles in plant life. In other words, the scientists have studied a large family of genes that supervise the plant cells to produce a variety of enzymes that are required for a wide range of plant functions. In the study, the researchers have recognized 94 and 61 genes and have assumed that they belong to the family of Poplar trees and leafy Arabidopsis by probing the genomes of these families respectively. They have further investigated on the gene expression and have further activated the genes' enzyme products at various different parts of the plant. The research team took a particular interest toward a number of genes expressed at high levels in the woody plant tissues because wood and other biofibers made from plant cell walls are the feedstocks for biofuel production. Production of biofuel primarily involves the breakdown of biofibers making sugar.

The team has observed that a plant has strategies to hinder the breakdown of the biofibers. They have explained this phenomenon by elaborating on the acyl groups attached to the cell wall fibers that can operate as blockades to obstruct the conversion of fibers into sugar. Furthermore, the acyl groups can form cross-linked networks that make the cell walls extra strong and the breakdown more difficult. The researchers in this current study have aimed at investigating the acyl-modifying enzyme family and hold a long-term interest to find the enzymes that control the formation of cell-wall bound acyl groups to modify plant cell walls to increase the breakdown mechanism. After these investigations, they have planned to use biochemical and biophysical approaches to characterize these individual genes' functions to find those directly or indirectly related to cell-wall modification. They have further planned to use those genes to engineer new bioenergy crops, and test whether those changes improve the efficiency of converting biomass to biofuel.

During the course of the study, the investigators have made some observations leading to the discovery of a few unique pairs of genes that were inversely overlapped with their neighboring genes on the genome. In this distinctive organization, the paired genes (sequences of DNA produce protein-encoding segments RNAs). This means that the two RNA strands would stick to each other like highly specific Velcro (a type of hook and loop fastners), preventing the RNA from building its enzyme, thereby inhibiting the expression of one gene in the pair with the other. Understanding this new discovery could in future would help the scientists in their attempts to normalize the acyl-modifying enzyme levels.

The US DOE's Department of Agriculture Joint Plant Feedstock Genomics Program and Brookhaven's Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program have supported the research study, along with the funding provided by DOE's Office of Science.

Details: Chang-Jun Liu, Researcher, Molecular and Cell Biology, Biology Department, 463, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY 11973-5000.

Phone: 631-344-2966. Fax: 631-344-3407. E-mail: URL:

Source Citation
"Biofuel production using plant gene mapping techniques." Industrial Bioprocessing (2009). General OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2009. .

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