A research team led by the University of Georgia has discovered that
manipulation of a gene found in poplar trees and switchgrass produces plants
that grow better and are more efficiently converted to biofuels. The
researchers report that reducing the activity of the GAUT4 gene leads to
lower levels of pectin, a component of plant cell walls responsible for
their resistance to deconstruction.
The team from six institutions led by Debra Mohnen, a member of UGA's
Complex Carbohydrate Research Center and professor of biochemistry and
molecular biology found that reducing the expression of GAUT4 in poplar and
switchgrass led to a 70 percent reduction in pectin content and produced a
15 percent increase in sugar release. The increase in yield and sugar
release bodes well for creating biofuels. Unexpectedly, it also led to
increased growth of both plant species, which is an added benefit.