Blacksburg, VA -- Virginia Tech researchers have received $1.2 million to study protein-protein interactions associated with biomass production in poplar wood. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) jointly selected the Virginia Tech project and 10 others for awards totaling $8.3 million for biofuel research that may increase the availability and use of alternative fuels.
Poplar is a model biomass crop, said Eric Beers, associate professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the projects principal investigator. If we can identify the protein-protein interaction networks associated with its woody tissues, it will give us a more detailed understanding of how plants produce their biomass their genomics and the molecular biology of biomass production. This will ultimately contribute to strategies for improving biomass crops.
Proteins are the molecular machines required for the production of plant cell walls. To function, proteins must interact with other proteins, but researchers know little about the protein-protein interactions that occur during the process of wood formation.
This is basic research that could conceivably make the use of poplar wood as a biomass crop more amenable to large-scale production and economically feasible, Beers said.
Amy Brunner, associate professor of forestry in the College of Natural Resources, will use her expertise in poplar genomics to study a subset of the protein interactions directly in poplar trees and to incorporate results with what scientists know about gene expression and gene function within poplar wood. She has already identified approximately 250 poplar genes specifically associated with wood formation that will be the focus of this project. This is known as the poplar biomass gene set.