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Sunday, 18 February 2007 00:00

Cell walls determine the industrial properties of a range of plant products including paper, timber, food, fodder and spun fibres, as well as coatings, renewable polymers and future nanocomposites. The major bottleneck in the development of novel germplasm with new cell wall properties is our lack of understanding on the impact of specific genes on cell wall texture, that is, the composite of cellulose microfibrils (CMFs) intercalated between matrix polymers, and on the impact of cell wall texture on industrial properties.

The aim of this project is to develop the tools to rationally design plant cell wall properties for industrial end-uses.

A systems biology approach involving iterative quantitative modelling and experiments has been used to formulate a mathematical model explaining how cells determine wall texture. This mathematical model for cell wall texture formation is geometrical in origin and is therefore referred to as the geo-model. It predicts all available cell wall textures given a number of parameters. In this project we will use a systems biology approach to test the function based design capabilities of the geo-model in two widely accepted model plants: Arabidopsis and the industrially important tree poplar. Transgenic plants with novel CMF and matrix gene assemblies will be produced and analyzed for changes in wall texture, chemical composition and mechanical properties, as related to industrial applications. The experimental output will be used as the experimental input in subsequent rounds of iterative modelling and experimentation aimed at fine-tuning the geo-model, and its associated industrial applications.

This systems biology project is new at both the world and European level, and as such lays outside the FP6 thematic priorities. If successful, this project will deliver a rational design platform for cell wall-based products and will provide a transdisciplinary research platform for both the fundamental and applied sciences.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 May 2007 14:45