Great Lakes Bioenergy research consistently results in new discoveries and new technologies. Here, we highlight high-impact research from all three of our research areas.
A team from the University of York and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center isolated a soft-rot fungus that shows exceptional ability to break down lignocellulose. From this fungus, they identified oxidase enzyme activity that effectively cleaves one of the major bonds in lignin, a process that currently requires expensive and time-consuming pretreatment steps. The enzyme also releases potentially useful co-products and makes the remaining lignin more easily digested by other enzymes.
As the climate warms, many scientists and farmers have worried about how rising temperatures will affect agricultural systems and crop yields. Warmer air may increase evaporation and water loss from plants, leading to concerns that climate change will cause crops to require more water—either from precipitation or irrigation—in a warmer future. However, a modeling study using temperature trends projected through 2050 suggests that future yields of corn and other bioenergy crops in the Midwest may stay stable without need for expanded irrigation.
In the face of climate change, breeding strategies that can improve crop resilience and productivity across a range of environments is increasingly important, but these approaches require sufficient knowledge of the genes that underlie productivity and adaptation. By studying 732 genotypes grown at 10 experimental gardens in eight states spread across 1,100 miles, a large team of researchers have produced a high-quality reference sequence of the complex switchgrass genome.
GLBRC scientists have established a machine learning model to help explain variation in nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural soils. Trained on data collected from GLBRC field sites in Michigan and Wisconsin, the tool can predict nitrous oxide fluxes much more accurately than existing models.
The most promising microbes for making fuels and chemicals from plant material have broad appetites and biosynthetic potential but have not been widely studied in research labs. In three recent studies, scientists report crucial information on how to control genes in unique and promising biosynthetic microbes.
Recently converted farmlands aren’t as productive as traditional food cropping systems, but cultivating bioenergy feedstocks could provide alternative revenue sources for farmers, reduced competition with food production, and better maintenance of water quality due to soil fixation by root systems.
GLBRC researchers engineered Z. mobilis strains for the ability to ramp down levels of a key ethanol-producing enzyme. This functions as a switch, allowing carbon to be funneled into other bioproducts at high efficiency.
GLBRC researchers used small organic thiols (sulfur-containing compounds) to mimic enzymes from wood-digesting bacteria in an attempt to cleave the β-O-4 bond, the most common linkage in lignin. This thiol-based strategy could be a viable way to break down lignin and enable further processing to turn it into valuable chemicals and other bioproducts.
GLBRC researchers modeled soil carbon changes in switchgrass plantings in Midwestern experimental sites with varied soil composition under three climate change scenarios. Their findings suggest that switchgrass-derived biofuels can lead to a net decrease in carbon emissions. However, the size of this carbon benefit will be affected by climate parameters as well as plant biomass production and soil characteristics.
GLBRC researchers identified the genes responsible for xyloglucan synthesis in Arabidopsis and showed that, surprisingly, xyloglucan is not necessary for plant growth and development. These results raise important questions regarding cell wall structure and its reorganization during growth.