Markus Pauly, UC Berkeley, Plant cell walls: Biosynthesis, structure, function, and resource for biofuels

Event Dates: February 14, 2014 - 4:00pm - 5:00pm

All cells of higher plants are encased in a mainly carbohydrate based cell wall also referred to as lignocellulosics. Lignocellulosics represent the dominant carbon sequestration system on land. However, lignocellulosics are not merely a carbon storage sink for plants, but they represent sophisticated, highly complex materials that plants produce to benefit their sessile life-styles allowing their survival for up to several millennia as is the case in some tree species. Lignocellulosics, the by far dominant component of plant biomass, consists of a complex aggregate of microcrystalline cellulose microfibrils, crosslinking water-soluble hemicelluloses, and a water repellent polyphenol, lignin.

In order to utilize this renewable resource for biofuels or other commodity chemicals it is desirable to understand how the plant synthesizes these polymers. Such knowledge may also one day lead to tailoring the polymer structures for numerous applications in varying industries.

Various strategies have been employed in our lab to identify the genes involved in the synthesis of this polymer including massive parallel pyrosequencing of relevant plants and tissues, forward genetic screens for plants with altered wall polymer structures, and reverse genetic approaches of analyzing insertional knock-out lines. The results demonstrate that plants could be identified/generated that harbor advantageous attributes for biorefineries. The ultimate goal of this research is to one day understand the complete biosynthetic pathway of a wall polymer utilizing a synthetic biology approach.