Washington, August 18 : Scientists at Michigan State University in the US have identified a new protein necessary for chloroplast development, a discovery that could ultimately lead to plant varieties tailored specifically for biofuel production.
Chloroplasts, which are specialized compartments in plant cells, convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into sugars and oxygen ("fuel" for the plant) during photosynthesis.
The newly discovered protein, trigalactosyldiacylglycerol 4, or TGD4, offers insight into how the process works. "Nobody knew how this mechanism worked before we described this protein," said Christoph Benning, MSU professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. "This protein directly affects photosynthesis and how plants create biomass (stems, leaves and stalks) and oils," he added.
The research shows how TGD4 is essential for the plant to make chloroplasts. Plants that don't have the protein die before they can develop beyond the embryonic stage. Understanding how TGD4 works may allow scientists to create plants that would be used exclusively to produce biofuels, possibly making the process more cost-effective. ost plants that are used to produce oils - corn, soybeans and canola, for example - accumulate the oil in their seeds. "We've found that if the TGD4 protein is malfunctioning, the plant then accumulates oil in its leaves," said Benning.
"If the plant is storing oil in its leaves, there could be more oil per plant, which could make production of biofuels such as biodiesel more efficient. More research is needed so we can completely understand the mechanism of operation," he added.