Plant pathway could improve biofuel

The article “Plant Pathway Could Improve Bio fuels” talks about how scientists at Purdue University are trying to change a certain pathway in the plant that could help the plant make an amino acid, thus boosting the plant’s nutritional value as well as the bio fuels production. An amino acid, phenylalanine is a precursor for more than 8,000 compounds essential to the plants including lignin. So far, there have been two known pathways that makes phenylalanine. Although one of them is the dominant one, there is still another pathway that plants could potentially use. Phenylalanine cannot be synthesized by either humans or animals and hence is acquired from the plants. It is made when sugars enters the plant’s shikimate pathway. The next pathways are either the phenylpyruvate or arogenate pathways, of which the arogenate pathway is known more.

The scientists at Purdue University found a gene that produces phenylalanine. Suppressing the gene stopped the production of phenylalanine as expected. However, they hypothesized to observe a large amounts of the precursors of phenylalanine since just blocking a gene that forms phenylalanine would not block its precursors. What they found was that the amounts of its precursors had been reduced too as the article mentions, “But that’s not what happened. “These plants knew that the last step of phenylalanine production was down and slowed the first steps,” Dudareva says. The plant created some sort of feedback mechanism that slowed down the entry point of the shikimate pathway.” The exciting part was when the scientists gave more shikimic acid to the petunia plants in order to force the shikimate pathway to be activated. They found that the petunia plants made more of the upstream precursor compounds but since it could not use the arogenate pathway, it used the alternate pathway to make phenylalanine. Until their discovery, this pathway had only existed in theory! The scientists are now trying to understand how the plants creates a feedback to the shikimate pathway. Understanding how to alter the plants’ phenylalanine production could help in improving the plants’ nutritional content and hence bio fuels production. I think this is a great way to go about how to make efficient bio fuels. It may take a long time but understanding the plant’s feedback mechanism and its way to generate certain compounds can help us better understand how lignins are made and how it can be controlled to make it easily digestible.

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