Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation Researchers make strides in improving plant digestibility

A recent breakthrough holds the potential to produce plants that are more digestible for animals and better suited for biofuel production.  The discovery involves lignin, a compound present in all plants that helps provide strength to cell walls.  Lignin acts as the biological rebar of the plant, providing structure and support giving the plant the ability to stand upright.  It also serves to line the plant’s circulatory system (vascular tissue) that transports necessary chemicals throughout the plant.  Building on Dixon's decades of research, Noble Foundation scientists debunked that myth, opening up a new avenue to improving plants. Noble researchers sought a way to improve digestibility through decreased lignin while maintaining normal biomass.  Researchers observed that plants with low lignin possessed high levels of salicylic acid (a molecule that forms the basis of aspirin). The lower they decreased lignin content, the more the salicylic acid would increase, so they reasoned that salicylic acid impacted biomass.  The Noble researchers then took low lignin plants and crossed them with plants that were unable to produce salicylic acid. The offspring possessed low lignin, but no salicylic acid, and grew normally while maintaining enhanced digestibility.


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