GLBRC's Plants Research Area


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

Physiology and metabolism "Tear down this wall"

Markus Pauly; Kenneth Keegstra

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Plant cell walls represent the most abundant renewable resource on this planet, with an estimated annual net primary production of land plants alone of 150–170 billion tons. Owing to their abundance, plant cell walls may play a key role in partially replacing fossil fuels by renewable source liquid fuels for transportation. Such strategies are part of the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning of fossil fuels. The major bottleneck in utilizing plant cell wall materials, often referred to as lignocellulosic biomass, for these purposes is their recalcitrance to efficient and cost-effective degradation to release fermentable sugars in high yield. In this issue of Current Opinion in Plant Biology, our aim is to give readers an up-to-date status report on the various wall structures found in plants, their biosynthesis and metabolism, and the differences between plant species, including potential energy crops such as grasses and trees. In addition, we have invited articles from our colleagues who work with fungi to enlighten us on the current prospects of using fungal enzymes to degrade wall polymers.

Plant triacylglycerols as feedstocks for the production of biofuels

Timothy P. Durrett; Christoph Benning; John B. Ohlrogge

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Triacylglycerols produced by plants are one of the most energy-rich and abundant forms of reduced carbon available from nature. Given their chemical similarities, plant oils represent a logical substitute for conventional diesel, a non-renewable energy source. However, as plant oils are too viscous for use in modern diesel engines, they are converted to fatty acid esters. The resulting fuel is commonly referred to as biodiesel, and offers many advantages over conventional diesel. Chief among these is that biodiesel is derived from renewable sources. In addition, the production and subsequent consumption of biodiesel results in less greenhouse gas emission compared to conventional diesel. However, the widespread adoption of biodiesel faces a number of challenges. The biggest of these is a limited supply of biodiesel feedstocks. Thus, plant oil production needs to be greatly increased for biodiesel to replace a major proportion of the current and future fuel needs of the world. An increased understanding of how plants synthesize fatty acids and triacylglycerols will ultimately allow the development of novel energy crops. For example, knowledge of the regulation of oil synthesis has suggested ways to produce triacylglycerols in abundant non-seed tissues. Additionally, biodiesel has poor cold-temperature performance and low oxidative stability. Improving the fuel characteristics of biodiesel can be achieved by altering the fatty acid composition. In this regard, the generation of transgenic soybean lines with high oleic acid content represents one way in which plant biotechnology has already contributed to the improvement of biodiesel.