GENETIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ON LIGNIN ACCUMULATION
Breaking It Down
Janet Braam, Ph.D., Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Rice University
Jennifer Rudgers, Ph.D., Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice University
William Hockaday, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Earth Science, Rice University
Carrie Masiello, Ph.D., Department of Earth Science, Rice University
Dr. Janet Braam
Dr. Jennifer Rudgers
Dr. Carrie Masiello
Dr. William Hockaday
The objective is to expand fundamental knowledge of the genetic basis of
carbon distribution in plants and understand how environmental
conditions affect this distribution with the goal of improving feedstock
properties for bio-based, renewable, energy generation.
Cellulose is the most abundant energy-rich biopolymer on earth and
currently is the most promising source for conversion to a biofuel. In
addition, because plants store CO2 below ground, the use of biofuel
crops can potentially reduce global warming.
The challenge for the bioenergy field is to devise approaches that
increase the ability and decrease the cost of isolating and breaking
down cellulose from plant cell walls. One major detriment to plant cell
wall deconstruction is the presence of lignin in the plant cell wall.
Lignin can surround the cellulose microfibrils and reduce
extractability. A major goal in feedstock optimization is to reduce the
accumulation and interference caused by lignin.
We aim to investigate how carbon distribution is altered in plants as a
result of the environment in which the plant is grown. We will conduct
our studies in the model plant Arabidopsis and extend these studies to
switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, a feasible energy crop. This research
will shed light on the consequences of growing bioenergy crops in
different environments subjected to varying stresses.
In addition, we hypothesize that plant enzymes that modify cell wall
architecture during growth and development are important determinants of
wall composition. We will test this hypothesis. The standard approach
for quantifying lignin is time consuming, labor intensive and expensive.
However, we have recently implemented a new technique for quantifying
natural organic matter components within complex mixtures. This
technique can be used to estimate the lignin concentration in plant
samples quickly and cheaply. This methodology enables the
quantification not only of lignin, but also of lipids, amino acids, and
carbohydrates, which yields even more information toward the
maximization of biofuel production as well as a clearer picture of how
CO2 is stored in root systems below ground.
Return to Research