NC researchers use switchboard approach to study lignin

By | October 06, 2009
The National Science Foundation has granted a $3.72 million grant to North Carolina State University for a four-year project aimed at understanding the role of lignin in trees. According to the university, the study will be the most comprehensive analysis of lignin ever undertaken. A team of 38 researchers began work on the project Sept. 15 and will conduct experiments on a group of more than 10,000 black cottonwood trees.

In order to understand the lignin biosynthesis pathway, researchers will first eliminate each of the tree's 33 pathway genes, one at a time. After determining each gene's role in producing lignin, the team will then turn the information into a mathematical model to create equations that determine how to create specific types and levels of lignin for particular uses. The study's principal investigator, Vincent Chiang, said this type of systems approach could be used for any biological process in any plant and could guide strategies for improved plant productivity for materials, energy and food.