Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Frontiers in plant science


Bioenergy will be one component of a suite of alternatives to fossil fuels. Effective conversion of biomass to energy will require the careful pairing of advanced conversion technologies with biomass feedstocks optimized for the purpose. Lignocellulosic biomass can be converted to useful energy products via two distinct pathways: enzymatic or thermochemical conversion. The thermochemical pathways are reviewed and potential biotechnology or breeding targets to improve feedstocks for pyrolysis, gasification, and combustion are identified. Biomass traits influencing the effectiveness of the thermochemical process (cell wall composition, mineral and moisture content) differ from those important for enzymatic conversion and so properties are discussed in the language of biologists (biochemical analysis) as well as that of engineers (proximate and ultimate analysis). We discuss the genetic control, potential environmental influence, and consequences of modification of these traits. Improving feedstocks for thermochemical conversion can be accomplished by the optimization of lignin levels, and the reduction of ash and moisture content. We suggest that ultimate analysis and associated properties such as H:C, O:C, and heating value might be more amenable than traditional biochemical analysis to the high-throughput necessary for the phenotyping of large plant populations. Expanding our knowledge of these biomass traits will play a critical role in the utilization of biomass for energy production globally, and add to our understanding of how plants tailor their composition with their environment.

Concepts: Metabolism, Hydrogen, Petroleum, Cell wall, Biofuel, Combustion, Biomass, Pyrolysis


Temperate perennial grasses are important worldwide as a livestock nutritive energy source and a potential feedstock for lignocellulosic biofuel production. The annual temperate grass Brachypodium distachyon has been championed as a useful model system to facilitate biological research in agriculturally important temperate forage grasses based on phylogenetic relationships. To physically corroborate genetic predictions, we determined the chemical composition profiles of organ-specific cell walls throughout the development of two common diploid accessions of Brachypodium distachyon, Bd21-3 and Bd21. Chemical analysis was performed on cell walls isolated from distinct organs (i.e., leaves, sheaths, stems, and roots) at three developmental stages of (1) 12-day seedling, (2) vegetative-to-reproductive transition, and (3) mature seed fill. In addition, we have included cell wall analysis of embryonic callus used for genetic transformations. Composition of cell walls based on components lignin, hydroxycinnamates, uronosyls, neutral sugars, and protein suggests that Brachypodium distachyon is similar chemically to agriculturally important forage grasses. There were modest compositional differences in hydroxycinnamate profiles between accessions Bd21-3 and Bd21. In addition, when compared to agronomical important C3 grasses, more mature Brachypodium stem cell walls have a relative increase in glucose of 48% and a decrease in lignin of 36%. Though differences exist between Brachypodium and agronomical important C3 grasses, Brachypodium distachyon should be still a useful model system for genetic manipulation of cell wall composition to determine the impact upon functional characteristics such as rumen digestibility or energy conversion efficiency for bioenergy production.

Concepts: Cell, Bacteria, Glucose, Chemistry, Cell wall, Cellulose, Carbohydrate, Brachypodium distachyon


Moss species Physcomitrella patens has been used as a model system in plant science for several years, because it has a short life cycle and is easy to be handled. With the completion of its genome sequencing, more and more proteomic analyses were conducted to study the mechanisms of P. patens abiotic stress resistance. It can be concluded from these studies that abiotic stresses could lead to the repression of photosynthesis and enhancement of respiration in P. patens, although different stresses could also result in specific responses. Comparative analysis showed that the responses to drought and salinity were very similar to that of abscisic acid, while the response to cold was quite different from these three. Based on previous studies, it is proposed that sub-proteomic studies on organelles or protein modifications, as well as functional characterization of those candidate proteins identified from proteomic studies will help us to further understand the mechanisms of abiotic stress resistance in P. patens.

Concepts: DNA, Photosynthesis, Protein, Genome, Plant, Model organism, Moss, Physcomitrella patens


A sharp decline in the availability of arable land and sufficient supply of irrigation water along with a continuous steep increase in food demands have exerted a pressure on farmers to produce more with fewer resources. A viable solution to release this pressure is to speed up the plant breeding process by employing biotechnology in breeding programs. The majority of biotechnological applications rely on information generated from various -omic technologies. The latest outstanding improvements in proteomic platforms and many other but related advances in plant biotechnology techniques offer various new ways to encourage the usage of these technologies by plant scientists for crop improvement programs. A combinatorial approach of accelerated gene discovery through genomics, proteomics, and other associated -omic branches of biotechnology, as an applied approach, is proving to be an effective way to speed up the crop improvement programs worldwide. In the near future, swift improvements in -omic databases are becoming critical and demand immediate attention for the effective utilization of these techniques to produce next-generation crops for the progressive farmers. Here, we have reviewed the recent advances in proteomics, as tools of biotechnology, which are offering great promise and leading the path toward crop improvement for sustainable agriculture.

Concepts: Agriculture, Genomics, Fungus, Biotechnology, Irrigation, Functional genomics, Breeding, Agronomy


Benzylisoquinoline alkaloids (BIAs) are a diverse group of biologically active specialized metabolites produced mainly in four plant families. BIA metabolism is likely of monophyletic origin and involves multiple enzymes yielding structurally diverse compounds. Several BIAs possess defensive properties against pathogenic microorganisms and herbivores. Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum: Papaveraceae) has emerged as a model system to investigate the cellular localization of BIA biosynthesis. Although alkaloids accumulate in the laticifer cytoplasm (latex) of opium poppy, corresponding biosynthetic enzymes and gene transcripts are localized to proximal sieve elements and companion cells, respectively. In contrast, BIA metabolism in the non-laticiferous meadow rue (Thalictrum flavum; Ranunculaceae) occurs independent of the phloem. Evidence points toward the adoption of diverse strategies for the biosynthesis and accumulation of alkaloids as defensive compounds. Recruitment of cell types involved in BIA metabolism, both within and external to the phloem, was likely driven by selection pressures unique to different taxa. The biochemistry, cell biology, ecophysiology, and evolution of BIA metabolism are considered in this context.

Concepts: Protein, Cell, Bacteria, Metabolism, Organism, Morphine, Opium, Opium poppy


Light intensity and temperature are very important signals for the regulation of plant growth and development. Plants subjected to less favorable light or temperature conditions often respond with accumulation of secondary metabolites. Some of these metabolites have been identified as bioactive compounds, considered to exert positive effects on human health when consumed regularly. In order to test a typical range of growth parameters for the winter crop Brassica oleracea var. sabellica, plants were grown either at 400 μmol m(-2) s(-1) or 100 μmol m(-2) s(-1) at 10°C, or at 400 μmol m(-2) s(-1) with 5 or 15°C. The higher light intensity overall increased flavonol content of leaves, favoring the main quercetin glycosides, a caffeic acid monoacylated kaempferol triglycoside, and disinapoyl-gentiobiose. The higher temperature mainly increased the hydroxycinnamic acid derivative disinapoyl-gentiobiose, while at lower temperature synthesis is in favor of very complex sinapic acid acylated flavonol tetraglycosides such as kaempferol-3-O-sinapoyl-sophoroside-7-O-diglucoside. A global analysis of light and temperature dependent alterations of gene expression in B. oleracea var. sabellica leaves was performed with the most comprehensive Brassica microarray. When compared to the light experiment much less genes were differentially expressed in kale leaves grown at 5 or 15°C. A structured evaluation of differentially expressed genes revealed the expected enrichment in the functional categories of e.g. protein degradation at different light intensities or phytohormone metabolism at different temperature. Genes of the secondary metabolism namely phenylpropanoids are significantly enriched with both treatments. Thus, the genome of B. oleracea was screened for predicted genes putatively involved in the biosynthesis of flavonoids and hydroxycinnamic acid derivatives. All identified B. oleracea genes were analyzed for their most specific 60-mer oligonucleotides present on the 2 × 105 K format Brassica microarray. Expression differences were correlated to the structure-dependent response of flavonoid glycosides and hydroxycinnamic acid derivatives to alterations in either light or temperature. The altered metabolite accumulation was mainly reflected on gene expression level of core biosynthetic pathway genes and gave further hints to an isoform specific functional specialization.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Gene expression, Amino acid, Metabolism, Organism, Kale


Exogenous ethylene, or ethephon, has been widely used to induce pineapple flowering, but the molecular mechanism behind ethephon induction is still unclear. In this study, we cloned four genes encoding ethylene receptors (designated AcERS1a, AcERS1b, AcETR2a, and AcETR2b). The 5' flanking sequences of these four genes were also cloned by self-formed adaptor PCR and SiteFinding-PCR, and a group of putative cis-acting elements was identified. Phylogenetic tree analysis indicated that AcERS1a, AcERS1b, AcETR2a, and AcETR2b belonged to the plant ERS1s and ETR2/EIN4-like groups. Quantitative real-time PCR showed that AcETR2a and AcETR2b (subfamily 2) were more sensitive to ethylene treatment compared with AcERS1a and AcERS1b (subfamily 1). The relative expression of AcERS1b, AcETR2a, and AcETR2b was significantly increased during the earlier period of pineapple inflorescence formation, especially at 1-9 days after ethylene treatment (DAET), whereas AcERS1a expression changed less than these three genes. In situ hybridization results showed that bract primordia (BP) and flower primordia (FP) appeared at 9 and 21 DAET, respectively, and flowers were formed at 37 DAET. AcERS1a, AcERS1b, AcETR2a, and AcETR2b were mainly expressed in the shoot apex at 1-4 DAET; thereafter, with the appearance of BP and FP, higher expression of these genes was found in these new structures. Finally, at 37 DAET, the expression of these genes was mainly focused in the flower but was also low in other structures. These findings indicate that these four ethylene receptor genes, especially AcERS1b, AcETR2a, and AcETR2b, play important roles during pineapple flowering induced by exogenous ethephon.

Concepts: Protein, Genetics, Gene expression, Molecular biology, Fruit, Flower, Ananas, Pineapple


Here we report on angiosperm-like pollen and Afropollis from the Anisian (Middle Triassic, 247.2-242.0 Ma) of a mid-latitudinal site in Northern Switzerland. Small monosulcate pollen grains with typical reticulate (semitectate) sculpture, columellate structure of the sexine and thin nexine show close similarities to early angiosperm pollen known from the Early Cretaceous. However, they differ in their extremely thin inner layer (nexine). Six different pollen types (I-VI) are differentiated based on size, reticulation pattern, and exine structure. The described pollen grains show all the essential features of angiosperm pollen. However, considering the lack of a continuous record throughout the lower part of the Mesozoic and the comparison with the oldest Cretaceous finds we suggest an affinity to an angiosperm stem group. Together with the previously published records from the Middle Triassic of the Barents Sea area the angiosperm-like pollen grains reflect a considerable diversity of the parent plants during the Middle Triassic. Sedimentological evidence and associated palynofloras also suggest a remarkable ecological range for these plants. Associated with these grains we found pollen comparable to the genus Afropollis. Representatives of this genus are commonly recorded in Lower Cretaceous sediments of low latitudes, but until now had no record from the lower part of the Mesozoic.

Concepts: Flowering plant, Pollen, Cretaceous, Triassic, Psittacosaurus, Early Cretaceous, Spinosauridae, Anisian


Cannabis sativa L. is an important herbaceous species originating from Central Asia, which has been used in folk medicine and as a source of textile fiber since the dawn of times. This fast-growing plant has recently seen a resurgence of interest because of its multi-purpose applications: it is indeed a treasure trove of phytochemicals and a rich source of both cellulosic and woody fibers. Equally highly interested in this plant are the pharmaceutical and construction sectors, since its metabolites show potent bioactivities on human health and its outer and inner stem tissues can be used to make bioplastics and concrete-like material, respectively. In this review, the rich spectrum of hemp phytochemicals is discussed by putting a special emphasis on molecules of industrial interest, including cannabinoids, terpenes and phenolic compounds, and their biosynthetic routes. Cannabinoids represent the most studied group of compounds, mainly due to their wide range of pharmaceutical effects in humans, including psychotropic activities. The therapeutic and commercial interests of some terpenes and phenolic compounds, and in particular stilbenoids and lignans, are also highlighted in view of the most recent literature data. Biotechnological avenues to enhance the production and bioactivity of hemp secondary metabolites are proposed by discussing the power of plant genetic engineering and tissue culture. In particular two systems are reviewed, i.e., cell suspension and hairy root cultures. Additionally, an entire section is devoted to hemp trichomes, in the light of their importance as phytochemical factories. Ultimately, prospects on the benefits linked to the use of the -omics technologies, such as metabolomics and transcriptomics to speed up the identification and the large-scale production of lead agents from bioengineered Cannabis cell culture, are presented.

Concepts: Medicine, Biotechnology, Cell culture, Cannabis, Plant stem, Cannabinoid, Cannabis sativa


Agrobacterium tumefaciens binds to the surfaces of inanimate objects, plants, and fungi. These bacteria are excellent colonizers of root surfaces. In addition, they also bind to soil particles and to the surface of artificial or man-made substances, such as polyesters and plastics. The mechanisms of attachment to these different surfaces have not been completely elucidated. At least two types of binding have been described unipolarpolysaccharide-dependent polar attachment and unipolar polysaccharide-independent attachment (both polar and lateral). The genes encoding the enzymes for the production of the former are located on the circular chromosome, while the genes involved in the latter have not been identified. The expression of both of these types of attachment is regulated in response to environmental signals. However, the signals to which they respond differ so that the two types of attachment are not necessarily expressed coordinately.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Cell, Bacteria, Eukaryote, Plant, Fungus