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Biofuel Biochemistry Can Beat the Food vs Fuel Dilemma

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Scientists have identified new steps in the way plants produce cellulose, the component of plant cell walls that provides strength and forms insoluble fibre in the human diet. The findings may lead to improved cellulose production, and guide plant breeding for specific uses such as wood products and cellulosic ethanol fuel.

Published in Nature Communications (, the research identified several proteins that are essential in the assembly of the protein machinery that makes cellulose. “We found that these assembly factors control how much cellulose is made, and so plants without them cannot produce cellulose very well and the defect substantially impairs plant biomass production,” says Prof Staffan Persson of The University of Melbourne.

“The ultimate aim of this research would be to breed plants that have altered activity of these proteins so that cellulose production can be improved for the range of applications that use cellulose, including paper, timber and ethanol fuels.

The newly discovered proteins are located in the cell’s Golgi apparatus, where proteins are sorted and modified. “If the function of this protein family is abolished, the cellulose-synthesising complexes become stuck in the Golgi and have problems reaching the cell surface, where...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.