A modern bioeconomy needs to valorise the potential of carbon neutral resources, in particular the environmentally and socially acceptable, and economically competitive utilization of plant biomass. Most of the plant biomass consists of durable lignocellulosics what provide structural strength for the plant and are the first line of defence against invading pathogens. It is thus desirable to improve the lignocellulosic components of plants in a way that they do not perturb their function and thus have negative effects on biomass accumulation, but have improved processing properties. While the focus of past research has been on model species (e.g. Arabidopsis), very little is known about how the lignocellulosic polysaccharides are formed and integrated into the wall in cereal cell walls, a major source of food, feed, and fiber crops and as a agricultural residue a potential feedstock for the production of chemical commodities.
Previous screening work has allowed the identification of maize candy-leaf (Cal) mutants with altered wall sugar compositions in a forward genetic screen. Cal-1, a non-transgenic maize variant, has a 246% increase in hemicelullosic glucans compared to current maize elite varieties. This collaborative project aims to characterize Cal mutants and to understand how the CAL-1 gene functions at the molecular level, as well as to explore the potential effect of certain wall modifications in cereal immunity and biomass digestibility in the context of the production of green chemicals. Consequently, the scientific outcomes of the project will be of interest for a very broad spectrum of scientists working on basic cell wall biology, biomass depolymerization, deployment of such an agricultural waste feedstock for biofuel production, crop protection, and microbiology; and due to its commercial importance, the academic, economic and social impact of this research in grass species will make important contributions to the EU excellence and competiveness.
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