Elucidating Control of Secondary Cell Wall Synthesis


The plant cell wall plays an important role in cell function and environmental response by providing both mechanical support and a barrier against invading pathogens. Furthermore, the highly-abundant secondary cell walls, which are composed of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin, are an important source of dietary fiber, raw material for paper and pulp, and feedstock for biofuel production. Despite the importance of the plant secondary cell wall for renewable resources, knowledge of the precise mechanisms that regulate these critical functions is limited. New research results published in the journal Nature report the identification of a gene network in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana that controls synthesis of the biopolymers that comprise the secondary cell wall. Instead of using a gene-by-gene approach, the scientists undertook a comprehensive, large-scale analysis, which revealed a highly integrated network involving hundreds of genes and protein-DNA interactions. Furthermore, they found that the extremely large number of combinatorial possibilities provided by this arrangement allows for subtle adaptation to specific abiotic stresses such as salt stress and iron deprivation. These findings provide a framework for future work to dissect and refine specific gene functions, enabling targeted manipulation of the network to produce high-yielding plant feedstocks for bioenergy production. The Nature paper is accompanied by a commentary by two prominent plant scientists. This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Department of Energy Plant Feedstocks Genomics for Bioenergy program.



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