Danforth Center Gets Grants to Help Biofuels Research

John Davis

Danforth Center jpegA pair of three-year National Science Foundation grants will help the St. Louis-based Donald Danforth Plant Science Center continue its biofuel research.

This press release says one of the awards is a $550,000 grant awarded through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act that will support research that explores regulation of plant metabolism, an important part of biofuel research:

Dr. Oliver Yu, associate member, Danforth Plant Science Center will serve as the principal investigator on the project.

Yu’s research aims to increase understanding of the synthesis of lignins and flavonoids which together account for up to 30 per cent of plant biomass. These compounds play essential roles in plant growth and development. Lignins are major components of plant cell walls while flavonoids are precursors of lignins and function during a plant’s response to stresses such as drought and disease.

Yu will investigate how enzyme interactions in a metabolic process direct the flow of plant resources in the metabolic pathway that leads to production of lignins. For example, when plants are under attack by pathogens, specific enzyme interactions may direct simple molecules (in this case, monomers derived from phenol) to polymerize into lignins that re-enforce cell walls to prevent further invasions by the pathogen. However, under strong ultraviolet light irradiation, the plant uses the same pathway to establish new enzyme interactions that would produce flavonoids (a group of UV protectants) from the same phenolic monomers. Yu and his team of researchers hope to identify how enzyme interactions are established under various conditions and how these interactions alter the direction and flow of a particular pathway, leading to production of various compounds from a common starting molecule.

Dr. Dilip Shah, associate research member at the Danforth Center, picked up the other NSF grant worth $500,000 and a two-year $271,000 award from the Consortium of Plant Biotechnology Research, for his research aimed at learning more about fungal pathogens and how to control the diseases that they cause.

The work is seen as important for feedstocks, such as corn and soybeans.