Unraveling the basal angiosperm cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase (CAD) genes that are involved in lignin biosynthesis

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Biomass is biological material derived from living organisms that can be used for fuel and energy sources. Given current energy concerns, high yielding biomass production systems are in greater demand than ever. Wood is a natural, high energy and environmentally sound source that has a long history of use as feedstock for energy, chemical extractives, and fiber. A better understanding of wood formation in trees is fundamental to efforts to enhance the production of woody biomass. The overall goal of the project is to identify and investigate the cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase (CAD) genes that are involved in lignin biosynthesis in the yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipfera), a tree with great economic and ecological significance. Lignin is a major constituent of wood. A Creative Inquiry team of three undergraduate students (C. Xu, M. Barclay, and G. Stott) attempt to identify yellow poplar homologs involved in plant cell wall biosynthesis by using an Arabidopsis mutant that has lost the functions of its primary CAD genes. Approaches employed included complementation analysis, examination of promoter activities under various environmental stresses, and enzymatic kinetic assay with potential substrates. Information obtained through this project will enable comparative analyses of function and expression of CAD genes between yellow-poplar and poplar. Such a broad taxonomic comparison will eventually help us identify and/or confirm the key genes that are most important in regulating and enhancing biomass feedstock productivity.

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