Source: The Samuel Roberts Nobel Foundation via PR Newswire

Scientists at The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation have uncovered a gene responsible for controlling the density of plant material. Plants that have increased density hold great potential to be used to produce biofuels, electricity and even advanced materials, like carbon fiber.

Denser plants have more biomass without increasing the agricultural footprint, meaning farmers and ranchers can produce more plant material from the same sized field. "This is a significant breakthrough for those developing improved plants to address pressing societal needs," said Richard Dixon, D. Phil., director of the Noble Foundation's Plant Biology Division. "This discovery opens up new possibilities for harnessing and increasing the potential of crops by expanding their ranges of use. These plants will be part of the next generation of agriculture which not only impacts food, but many other vital industries as well."

Huanzhong Wang, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Dixon's lab, found a gene that controls the production of lignin in the central portions of certain plant species. Lignin is a compound that helps provide strength to plant cell walls, basically giving the plant the ability to stand upright. When the newly discovered gene is removed, there is a dramatic increase in the production of biomass, including lignin, throughout the stem.

Research targeting plants that are grazed by animals has historically focused on reducing lignin production within the plant. However, increasing lignin in non-food crops, such as switchgrass, may be desirable for increasing the density of the biomass and producing more feedstock per plant and, therefore, more per acre.

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