Cell-wall carbohydrates and their modification as a resource for biofuels


*(fax +1 517 353 9168; e-mail paulymar@msu.edu).


Plant cell walls represent the most abundant renewable resource on this planet. Despite their great abundance, only 2% of this resource is currently used by humans. Hence, research into the feasibility of using plant cell walls in the production of cost-effective biofuels is desirable. The main bottleneck for using wall materials is the recalcitrance of walls to efficient degradation into fermentable sugars. Manipulation of the wall polysaccharide biosynthetic machinery or addition of wall structure-altering agents should make it possible to tailor wall composition and architecture to enhance sugar yields upon wall digestion for biofuel fermentation. Study of the biosynthetic machinery and its regulation is still in its infancy and represents a major scientific and technical research challenge. Of course, any change in wall structure to accommodate cost-efficient biofuel production may have detrimental effects on plant growth and development due to the diverse roles of walls in the life of a plant. However, the diversity and abundance of wall structures present in the plant kingdom gives hope that this challenge can be met.