Plants

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GLBRC's Plants Research Area

Plants

At the GLBRC, Plants researchers are developing the next generation of biomass-trait-improved crops. Because crops will continue to be grown for food and feed in the future, research focused on enhancing plants with desirable energy traits must be pursued without sacrificing grain yield and quality.

Learn about the Center's research approach

Plants Leadership

Plants Lead

Ralph’s program is aimed at decreasing plant cell wall recalcitrance to processing and improving plant value to the biorefinery, largely by: detailing lignin structure, chemistry, and reactions; delineating the effects of perturbing lignin biosynthetic pathways; ‘redesigning’ lignins in planta to...

Plants Lead

Brandizzi is a professor in the Michigan State University-U.S. Department of Energy (MSU-DOE) Plant Research Laboratory, and brings over 15 years of academic research experience to her role at GLBRC. Prior to coming to Michigan, Brandizzi was an associate professor...

Project Overview

Primary root of live Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings grown with green fluorescence-tagged monolignol probeGLBRC Plants research is highly genomics-focused. Although most plants used in agriculture have been selected for improved production of food or fiber, future bioenergy crops will have different characteristics, including high-energy yield per hectare, ease of conversion to fuels, and agricultural sustainability. Thus, while the Center's long-term efforts focus primarily on dedicated bioenergy crops such as perennial grasses and short-rotation woody species, improving basic traits in all biomass-relevant crops including the grain annuals is a priority.

Plants research projects fall under three general categories:

  • Reducing lignocellulosic biomass recalcitrance through plant cell wall modification
  • Improving the value of the biomass grown for bioenergy production
  • Integrating these and other beneficial traits into bioenergy crops that exhibit improved nutrient use and stress tolerance for sustainable, perennialized production

Plants Publications

Impact of lignin polymer backbone esters on ionic liquid pretreatment of poplar

Kwang Ho Kim; Tanmoy Dutta; John Ralph; Shawn D. Mansfield; Blake A. Simmons; Seema Singh

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2017

In Brachypodium a complex signaling is actuated to protect cells from proteotoxic stress and facilitate seed filling

Sang-Jin Kim; Starla Zemelis-Durfee; Curtis Wilkerson; Federica Brandizzi

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2017

MAIN CONCLUSION: A conserved UPR machinery is required for Brachypodium ER stress resistance and grain filling. Human and livestock diets depend on the accumulation of cereal storage proteins and carbohydrates, including mixed-linkage glucan (MLG), in the endosperm during seed development. Storage proteins and proteins responsible for the production of carbohydrates are synthesized in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Unfavorable conditions during growth that hamper the ER biosynthetic capacity, such as heat, can cause a potentially lethal condition known as ER stress, which activates the unfolded protein response (UPR), a signaling response designed to mitigate ER stress. The UPR relies primarily on a conserved ER-associated kinase and ribonuclease, IRE1, which splices the mRNA of a transcription factor (TF), such as bZIP60 in plants, to produce an active TF that controls the expression of ER resident chaperones. Here, we investigated activation of the UPR in Brachypodium, as a model to study the UPR in seeds of a monocotyledon species, as well as the consequences of heat stress on MLG deposition in seeds. We identified a Brachypodium bZIP60 orthologue and determined a positive correlation between bZIP60 splicing and ER stress induced by chemicals and heat. Each stress condition led to transcriptional modulation of several BiP genes, supporting the existence of condition-specific BiP regulation. Finally, we found that the UPR is elevated at the early stage of seed development and that MLG production is negatively affected by heat stress via modulation of MLG synthase accumulation. We propose that successful accomplishment of seed filling is strongly correlated with the ability of the plant to sustain ER stress via the UPR.

Lignin-derived thioacidolysis dimers: reevaluation, new products, authentication, and quantification

Fengxia Yue; Fachuang Lu; Matt Regner; Runcang Sun; John Ralph

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2017

Lignin structural studies play an essential role both in understanding the development of plant cell walls and for valorizing lignocellulosics as renewable biomaterials. Dimeric products released by selectively cleaving β-aryl ether linkages between lignin units reflect the distribution of recalcitrant lignin units, but have been neither absolutely defined nor quantitatively determined. Here we identified and quantified 12 guaiacyl-type thioacidolysis dimers using newly synthesized standards. One product previously attributed to deriving from β–1-coupled units was established as resulting from β– 5 units, correcting an analytical quandary. Another long-standing dilemma, that no β–β dimers were recognized in thioacidolysis products from gymnosperms, has now been resolved with the discovery of two such authenticated compounds. Individual GC response factors for each standard compound allow rigorous quantification of dimeric products released from softwood lignins, affording insight into the various interunit linkage distributions in lignins and thereby guiding the valorization of lignocellulosics.

Lignocellulosic pretreatment in a fungus-cultivating termite

Hongjie Li; Daniel J. Yelle; Chang Li; Mengyi Yang; Jing Ke; Ruijuan Zhang; Yu Liu; Na Zhu; Shiyou Liang; Xiaochang Mo; John Ralph; Cameron R. Currie; Jianchu Mo

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2017

Depolymerizing lignin, the complex phenolic polymer fortifying plant cell walls, is an essential but challenging starting point for the lignocellulosics industries. The variety of ether– and carbon–carbon interunit linkages produced via radical coupling during lignification limit chemical and biological depolymerization efficiency. In an ancient fungus-cultivating termite system, we reveal unprecedentedly rapid lignin depolymerization and degradation by combining laboratory feeding experiments, lignocellulosic compositional measurements, electron microscopy, 2D-NMR, and thermochemolysis. In a gut transit time of under 3.5 h, in young worker termites, poplar lignin sidechains are extensively cleaved and the polymer is significantly depleted, leaving a residue almost completely devoid of various condensed units that are traditionally recognized to be the most recalcitrant. Subsequently, the fungus-comb microbiome preferentially uses xylose and cleaves polysaccharides, thus facilitating final utilization of easily digestible oligosaccharides by old worker termites. This complementary symbiotic pretreatment process in the fungus-growing termite symbiosis reveals a previously unappreciated natural system for efficient lignocellulose degradation.

Maintaining the factory: the roles of the unfolded protein response in cellular homeostasis in plants

Evan Angelos; Cristina Ruberti; Sang-Jin Kim; Federica Brandizzi

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2017

Much like a factory, the endoplasmic reticulum assembles simple cellular building blocks into complex molecular machines known as proteins. In order to protect the delicate protein folding process and ensure the proper cellular delivery of protein products under environmental stresses, eukaryotes have evolved a set of signaling mechanisms known as the unfolded protein response (UPR) to increase the folding capacity of the endoplasmic reticulum. This process is particularly important in plants, because their sessile nature commands adaptation for survival rather than escape from stress. As such, plants make special use of the UPR, and evidence indicates that the master regulators and downstream effectors of the UPR have distinct roles in mediating cellular processes that affect organism growth and development as well as stress responses. In this review we outline recent developments in this field that support a strong relevance of the UPR to many areas of plant life. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

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