New Enzyme Could Improve Production of Biofuels

Kewei Zhang and C.J. Liu

Scientists are exploring ways to make plants easier to convert to biofuels

Scientists at Brookhaven have created a new enzyme that effectively “masks” the synthetic precursors of lignin, a plant cell wall component that makes plant biomass particularly difficult to break down. The new enzyme should make it easier to convert plant biomass into biofuels.

As a very rigid aromatic polymer and integral cell wall component, lignin prevents digestive enzymes from accessing the simple sugars of cellulose fibers, which are needed to produce useable fuels. Today’s industrial processing methods require cell wall biomass to be pretreated to remove lignin, significantly adding to the cost of biofuel production. Incorporating the new enzyme into plants could substantially reduce the cost of that step.

The new enzyme reduced the lignin content of experimental Arabidopsis plants by up to 24 percent, leading to a 21 percent increase in the release of cell wall sugars. Furthermore, it did so without compromising the plant’s development or significantly reducing the biomass yield. The next step is to test the enzyme’s function in a dedicated energy crop to see if it will improve cell wall biomass digestibility. 

See the press release to learn more.

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