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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

    Tasmania's first specialty biodiesel plant has been approved, to start operating as early as July. The Macquarie Oil Company will spend half a million dollars on a specially designed facility in Cressy, in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. The plant will produce more than five million litres of fuel each year for the transport and marine industries. A unique blend of feed stock, including poppy seed, is expected to make it more viable than most operations. ABC Rural - February 25, 2008.

    The 16th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - From Research to Industry and Markets - will be held from 2nd to 6th June 2008, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre of FeriaValencia, Spain. Early bird fee registration ends 18th April 2008. European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - February 22, 2008.

    'Obesity Facts' – a new multidisciplinary journal for research and therapy published by Karger – was launched today as the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. The journal publishes articles covering all aspects of obesity, in particular epidemiology, etiology and pathogenesis, treatment, and the prevention of adiposity. As obesity is related to many disease processes, the journal is also dedicated to all topics pertaining to comorbidity and covers psychological and sociocultural aspects as well as influences of nutrition and exercise on body weight. Obesity is one of the world's most pressing health issues, expected to affect 700 million people by 2015. AlphaGalileo - February 21, 2008.

    A bioethanol plant with a capacity of 150 thousand tons per annum is to be constructed in Kuybishev, in the Novosibirsk region. Construction is to begin in 2009 with investments into the project estimated at €200 million. A 'wet' method of production will be used to make, in addition to bioethanol, gluten, fodder yeast and carbon dioxide for industrial use. The complex was developed by the Solev consulting company. FIS: Siberia - February 19, 2008.

    Sarnia-Lambton lands a $15million federal grant for biofuel innovation at the Western Ontario Research and Development Park. The funds come on top of a $10 million provincial grant. The "Bioindustrial Innovation Centre" project competed successfully against 110 other proposals for new research money. London Free Press - February 18, 2008.

    An organisation that has established a large Pongamia pinnata plantation on barren land owned by small & marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India is looking for a biogas and CHP consultant to help research the use of de-oiled cake for the production of biogas. The organisation plans to set up a biogas plant of 20,000 cubic meter capacity and wants to use it for power generation. Contact us - February 15, 2008.

    The Andersons, Inc. and Marathon Oil Corporation today jointly announced ethanol production has begun at their 110-million gallon ethanol plant located in Greenville, Ohio. Along with the 110 million gallons of ethanol, the plant annually will produce 350,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient. Marathon Oil - February 14, 2008.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Scientists discover signaling pathway that determines plant cell wall growth: could lead to 'third generation' biofuel crops

Plant scientists and cellular biologists from Purdue University have discovered a newly defined biochemical signaling pathway in plants that determines the process of cell wall growth. The discovery may provide the scientific tools to develop dedicated energy crops that yield more biofuels and bioproducts than currently can be produced. Such engineered plants introduce so-called 'third generation' biofuels which are based on growing crops with characteristics that conform to the demands of a particular bioconversion process.

The researchers report their findings in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study also will be published in the journal's March 11 print issue.

Cell growth signals

The biochemical pathway moves materials that determine cell shape and size through a system of signaling proteins, said Dan Szymanski, plant geneticist and cellular biologist at Purdue and lead researcher. By learning more about the growth and development process, it may be possible to engineer plants with improved properties such as cell walls that are more massive or are more easily fermented in the biofuel process.
We expect that cell wall material will to be a major source of biomass from plants designated for biofuel production. We need to learn more about how plant cells control the quality and amount of cell wall material. - Dan Szymanski
The research team investigated plant growth and cell wall development from several scientific approaches in determining the cascade of events that leads to changes in the cell wall. They discovered that a protein called "SPIKE1" directs the protein signaling pathway.

Plant cells grow by expansion, which is cell wall synthesis coupled with an increase in cell size. The key questions scientists need to answer in trying to create plants more valuable for biofuel production center on understanding how plants integrate metabolism, cell growth and biomass production.

To answer those questions and be able to engineer plants for improved growth of biomass for alternative fuels, Szymanski and other scientists investigated complex molecular functions:
Our research is focused on understanding signaling mechanisms. How does a cell interpret multiple types of information and then translate that information to a signal that says, 'Grow here, or modify or reinforce the cell wall here.' Or how does a cell know to make new cytoskeleton filaments at a certain time and place to define regions of growth that determine the cell's shape and size? - Dan Szymanski
Uncovering the mechanism
Actin filaments comprise the cytoskeleton, which is the roadway for delivery and recycling of materials that drive plant growth and determine the cell shape and size. Actin is an abundant protein in organisms that have multiple cells with nuclei:

SPIKE1 is a master regulator of many growth control pathways, including the protein signaling pathway that produces the cytoskeleton. The researchers were able to demonstrate that one of SPIKE1's functions is to control production of actin filament, which defines localized cell regions for delivery and recycling of growth materials.
Wall construction in plants, just as in a road project, is a coordinated effort. The supply and demand of the materials needed for growth must be coordinated. The question is, how do cells regulate this? - Dan Szymanski
The signaling pathway, headed by SPIKE1, is responsible for organizing activities during construction - delivering materials and recycling materials that are used during growth, he said. After SPIKE1 initiates communication among proteins along the pathway, actin filaments are produced and changes in cell shape and size occur:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Cells also must coordinate with the activities of surrounding cells that have different shapes and functions.
Cell expansion occurs in a crowded, but accommodating environment. As neighboring cells expand, this growth intrudes upon a neighbor. SPIKE1 generates signals so that cells can coordinate with neighboring cells' activities to promote organized cell expansion and proper cell-to-cell adhesion. - Dan Szymanski
Szymanski and his colleagues used an altered version of the mustard family laboratory plant Arabidopsis to study SPIKE1's function and find the proteins that it activates and to which it binds.

They found that when they created mutant plants by switching off the SPIKE1 gene so that the function is lost, one result was improper growth that manifested as holes in the leaf epidermis.

By studying the results of turning off various other protein complexes in the pathway, Szymanski's team was able to follow the sequence of events that occur during signaling.

They also found that plants in which the function of one of the pathway's signaling proteins was altered resulted in mutants that all looked alike. This suggested that the three major protein complexes the scientists investigated all function in a common pathway.

The Purdue research team confirmed this by making double mutants - plants in which two of the proteins had been switched off. One of the pathway's protein complexes, called "WAVE," functions the same way in both humans and Arabidopsis, and the SPIKE1 signaling pathway is likely to function in other plants including rice and corn.

However, in other organisms with SPIKE1-like genes, switching off the gene kills the organism. This lethality has made it difficult for scientists to understand the function of SPIKE1 and comparable genes in other organisms, including humans. Since Arabidopsis survives when SPIKE1 is disrupted, the Purdue team was able to determine the signaling pathway.

Potential implications
The scientists hypothesize that SPIKE1 may both generate and organize protein complex signaling. They also need to discover what activates SPIKE1. When the researchers understand enough about the processes involved in plant cell growth and development, then they may be able to design plants that are bigger with more cell wall that can be processed into biofuel.
Learning more about SPIKE1 likely will help us gain a better understanding of the mechanics and regulation involved with the pathways that control cell architecture and development in plants, and also may be relevant to animal and human growth and development. - Dan Szymanski
The other researchers involved with this study were graduate student Dipanwita Basu, postdoctoral students Jie Le and Taya Zakharova, and research technician Eileen Mallery. All are in the Purdue Department of Agronomy. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Purdue Agricultural Research Program.

Image: A Purdue research team is studying plant growth and cell wall development. By investigating plant cells at the molecular level, they may be able to design plants that are better sources of alternative transportation fuels. In these three slides, green outlines the outer epidermal cells. The red is from chloroplasts from the underlying cell layer. The final slide shows cells of a mutant plant in which a gene called SPIKE1 has been turned off. These mutant cells form abnormally and the cell walls won't properly adhere to each, resulting in holes in the epidermis that you can see through. Credit: Dan Szymanski, Purdue University.


Dipanwita Basu, Jie Le, Taya Zakharova, Eileen L. Mallery, and Daniel B. Szymanski, "A SPIKE1 Signaling Complex Controls Actin-Dependent Cell Morphogenesis through the Heteromeric WAVE and ARP2/3 Complexes", published online on February 29, 2008,
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0710294105

Purdue University: Newly defined signaling pathway could mean better biofuel sources - March 6, 2008.


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