Protein discovery to hasten biofuel production

August 16th, 2008 - 3:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 16 (IANS) A new protein necessary for chloroplast development, identified by researchers, is likely to pave the way to tailor plant varieties for biofuel production. Chloroplasts, specialised compartments in plant cells, convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into sugars and oxygen during photosynthesis.

The newly discovered protein, trigalactosyldiacylglycerol 4, or TGD4, offers insight into how the process works.

“Nobody knew how this mechanism worked before we described this protein,” said Christoph Benning, Michigan State University (MSU) professor of biochemistry and molecular biology.

“This protein directly affects photosynthesis and how plants create biomass (stems, leaves and stalks) and oils.”

Understanding how TGD4 works may allow scientists to create plants that would be used exclusively to produce biofuels, possibly making the process more cost-effective.

Most plants that are used to produce oils - corn, soybeans and canola, for example - accumulate the oil in their seeds.

“We’ve found that if the TGD4 protein is malfunctioning, the plant then accumulates oil in its leaves,” Benning said. “If the plant is storing oil in its leaves, there could be more oil per plant, which could make production of biofuels such as biodiesel more efficient.”

The results were published in the August issue of The Plant Cell.

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