Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have definitively linked the function of a specific domain of proteins important in plant-microbe biology to a cancer trigger in humans, knowledge that had eluded scientists for decades.
Scientists studying the biochemistry of plant cell walls have identified an enzyme that could turn woody poplar trees into a source for producing a major industrial chemical. The research, just published in Nature Plants, could lead to a new sustainable pathway for making “p-hydroxybenzoic acid,” a chemical building block currently derived from fossil fuels, in plant biomass.
: Plants synthesize thousands of metabolites that help them adapt to their environments. Mass spectrometry can detect and measure metabolites in a sample, but this is difficult with complex samples. One solution is to add labeled chemicals to a sample. This research developed an easy-to-use computational tool that locates labeled chemicals, simplifying analysis.
Scientists do not fully understand the mechanisms that plants use to extract phosphorus from soil and incorporate it into their biomass. Now, researchers have developed a new technique to visualize the activity and distribution of enzymes that mobilize phosphate around plant roots.
Plants emit gases like methanol and acetic acid that are not directly related to photosynthesis but that have an unknown origin. Researchers have found a possible source: natural chemical modification in the cellulose in plant cell walls and accompanying metabolic changes.
In the First-Person Science series, scientists describe how they made significant discoveries over years of research. Christoph Benning is the director of the Michigan State University-Department of Energy Plant Research Laboratory.