When improving plant cell walls, it all comes down to identifying the genes that are involved in the biosynthesis of the major cell wall polymers, and altering their expression levels in target crops such as poplar and maize. From co-expression data sets, we have identified a set of candidate genes that likely play an important role in phenolic biosynthesis. We have already demonstrated the role of some of these in lignin biosynthesis (Vanholme et al., 2012; 2013; Sundin et al., 2014). Our expertise in comparative metabolite profiling and mass spectrometry is a great asset to help elucidating their function. The potential for applications of these genes is investigated by analysing the biomass composition and saccharification potential of the corresponding mutants, and by translating this research to maize and poplar. Double mutants are made to test for additive or synergistic effects (de Vries et al., 2018).
Arabidopsis co-expression network.
Arabidopsis stem pieces of a wild type plant (left) and a low lignin mutant (right) after treatment with cellulases.