Formas has recently granted two research projects from Umeå Plant Science Centre (UPSC) that both aim to analyse the specific role of carbohydrate metabolism for wood formation. Ewa Mellerowicz, coordinator of one project, will study the role of Carbohydrate Active Enzymes in wood formation. Totte Niitylä, who is leading the other project, aims to analyse how carbohydrates are transported and integrated into the wood. The two researchers from UPSC will each receive about three million SEK from Formas.  

A large proportion of the woody biomass arises from carbohydrates. The two projects will analyse the carbohydrate metabolism in developing wood in spruce and aspen. Both tree species are fully sequenced model species and important for the Swedish forest industry. The researchers aim to identify factors that control the mechanical and chemical properties of wood and that influence specific wood traits like volume and density which are interesting for forestry. The outcome of these projects will provide new insights into wood formation in trees and will be very interesting for spruce and aspen breeding programs in Sweden.  

Ewa Mellerowicz, Professor at the Swedish University of Mellerowicz Ewa 1150Agricultural Science (SLU), is focussing in her research on so called wood matrix polysaccharides. These are long-chained carbohydrates that interact with the other wood cell wall components, cellulose and lignin, to form a rigid structure. They are synthesized and modified by Carbohydrate Active Enzymes (CAZYmes) and affect the mechanical and chemical properties of cell walls in wood cells. In her project, Ewa Mellerowicz and her colleagues want to identify CAZYmes that are involved in wood formation in spruce where wood carbohydrate metabolism is so far not well studied.

The researchers specifically plan to characterize how the expression of the identified spruce CAZYme genes is changing during the day and how this influences the deposition of carbohydrates to the cell wall. In a further step, Ewa Mellerowicz and her team will test the function of the identified spruce genes in aspen. The identification and characterisation of spruce CAZYmes will be not only valuable for understanding wood formation in conifers. The enzymes might be also interesting tools for industrial use.

Totte NiittyläTotte Niittyla 1150, group leader at UPSC, is interested in the transport of carbohydrates from photosynthetic tissues to the wood and their metabolism in the wood. He and his team are developing carbon-13 isotope flux measurements for aspen. The researchers expose aspen plants for a short time to carbon dioxide that is labelled with the heavy isotope carbon-13. Then, they analyse how the label is transported to and metabolised in developing wood. By determining which compounds are labelled combined with enzyme activity measurements the researchers around Totte Niittylä aim to identify new genes that control carbon fluxes during wood formation.

In a next step, the researchers plan to transfer their knowledge to spruce. They are especially interested in the connection between two wood traits interesting for tree breeding, tree growth and wood density. These two traits are generally negative correlated, i.e. enhanced volume growth leads to reduced wood density and the other way around. The idea is that this negative correlation can be broken up by improving the import and the metabolism of carbohydrates in the wood and so preventing a shortage of carbohydrates.

The Swedish Research Council Formas supports every year research and development projects in the areas of Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning. The funded research projects shall be basic and needs-driven and are selected according to their scientific quality and relevance. This year, Formas has approved 139 projects for funding with more than 400 million SEK in total. 

If you like to have more information, please contact:

Project: CAZymes as genetic determinants of wood, fiber and cell wall properties in spruce

Ewa Mellerowicz
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
+46 (0)90 786 8367
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Project: Wood Biomass for Bioeconomy

Totte Niittylä
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
+46 (0)90 786 8434
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