An international research team has discovered an enzyme that can be blocked in order to increase biofuel efficiency.
Called the caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE), the enzyme controls production of lignin – a major component of plant cell walls that limits conversion of energy by reducing the accessibility of sugar molecules.
It was already known that plants with lower concentrations of lignin are better suited to be used for biomass and biofuel production.
The international team from the USA, the UK and Belgium has now proposed a solution about how to make the naturally low-lignin plants even more energy-efficient.
"It looks like it could be very useful in trying to manipulate plant biomass to generate biofuels and other chemicals from non-food crops,” said Professor Claire Halpin from the University of Dundee in Scotland.
By knocking out the CSE, the examined Arabidopsis plants have produced 36 per cent less lignin compared with the control group. The remaining lignin produced by these plants was also easier to break down, further increasing the energy conversion efficiency.
"Our studies showed that, in the plant we studied – Arabidopsis, those with mutated CSE were able to release around four times as much cellulose,” Halpin said.
"When growth differences for the plants are factored in, this amounts to around three times as much biomass from each plant."
The results of the research conducted jointly by the University of Dundee, the James Hutton Institute, VIB research institute, Ghent University in Belgium and the US University of Wisconsin have been published in this week’s Science Express magazine.