Research Highlights

Increasing Plant Biomass Production with High Immunity (2010.8.20)

2010-11-15 3,750

The term ‘biomass’ may seem unfamiliar at first glance, but it is closely connected to the energy sources we use in daily life. In simple terms, it refers to an organic matter that contains renewable energy. When solar energy is absorbed by any plant, photosynthesis stores the energy in chemical form, and biomass can be extracted from the plant.

One way of using this biomass is burning it to obtain heat, which can in turn be used to generate electricity, but it can also be converted to practical forms of energy, such as transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel or methane gas.

Yet the most appealing strength of biomass is that it is a recyclable energy source. Plants reabsorb carbon dioxide generated from combustion of bioenergy. As many countries are currently suffering from managing carbon dioxide emission, biomass may become a contributing factor to energy production as well as preservation of the environment. However, the current challenge is that biomass energy is not abundant enough to satisfy the demand for fuels.

Recently, Ph.D. candidate Jaemyung Choi and Professor Ildoo Hwang at the Department of Life Sciences of POSTECH, in collaboration with Professor Kyung Hee Paek at Korea University, has devised a way to increase the plant biomass production by investigation of an important plant growth hormone called cytokinin.

Conventionally, it has been known that plants with high immunity and productivity tend to be underdeveloped because they use up too much energy to build up immune barriers. Moreover, it was generally accepted that hormones like salicylic acid, which heightens the immunity of plants restrains growth. Therefore, developing crops with high resistance is very difficult.

But Professor Hwang’s team discovered that ARR2, a cytokinin-activated transcription factor, activates the resistance response to pathogens of bacteria or mold by controlling the manifestation of genes that are connected to disease resistance. In other words, the activation of immune functions by a growth hormone, cytokinin, may lead to a great increase of plant biomass together.

By and large, if the above can be applied to the cultivation of biomass plants such as poplar trees, pampas grass and rapes, production is expected to increase at lower costs in various farming conditions, which may eventually guarantee a stable supply of eco-friendly energy.

“Plant bio-energy may come to the spotlight as a futuristic resource that can substitute for fossil fuels such as petroleum, but we must devise a way to increase the tolerance of biomass plants from environmental stress or viruses,” said Professor Hwang. He also stated that the team has been attempting to develop new species for biomass that can be produced efficiently with low costs.