Arabidopsis thaliana is never going to be a bioenergy or food crop.
However, it is a very useful tool to identify genes that can be used as tools to improve performance of food crops or facilitate bioenergy production from plants like poplar or Miscanthus (a grass). Therefore we have combined expression-profiling data from our own experiments with publically available datasets to identify candidate genes that may be involved in cell wall metabolism. We have used Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy to perform cell wall analysis in loss of function alleles to determine those candidate genes where loss of gene activity affects cell wall composition and structure. We have followed up on these initial observations by performing additional cell wall analysis, pathogen and saccharification assays (to assess the impact on release of sugar from cell wall material) in mutant and wildtype plants. These experiments have identified several candidates that can function as leads for improvement of crop performance since we have also identified their homologues in different crop species. This project is being pursued in collaboration with the Bauer research group at the EBI in Berkeley.