Source: Purdue University

Purdue University scientists have found the last undiscovered gene responsible for the production of the amino acid phenylalanine, a discovery that could lead to processes to control the amino acid to boost plants' nutritional values and produce better biofuel feedstocks.

Natalia Dudareva, a distinguished professor of horticulture, and Hiroshi Maeda, a postdoctoral researcher in Dudareva's laboratory, determined that the gene is one of 10 responsible for phenylalanine production in plants. Understanding how the amino acid is produced could provide a strategy to increase or reduce that production.

Phenylalanine is important for plant protein synthesis and for the production of flower scent, anti-oxidants and lignin, a principal plant cell wall component that helps plants stand upright and acts as a barrier in the production of cellulosic ethanol. It is one of the few essential amino acids that humans and animals cannot synthesize, so it must come from plants.

"In plant tissues where we want to lower lignin content, we may be able to block these pathways," Maeda said. "In cases where you want to increase the amount of phenylalanine, we could do that as well."

Decreasing phenylalanine could lead to a reduction in lignin, which would improve digestibility of cellulosic materials for ethanol production. Increasing phenylalanine could boost the nutritional value of some foods.


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