Novel Genes Controlling Cell Wall Biosynthesis

Stage: Prototype

Cell wall formation is a vital biological process for plants. Additionally, a plant’s cell wall composition is of great commercial interest. Cell walls influence the quality of paper and related products made from trees like the black cottonwood and related species. However, the exact molecular pathways and dynamics that govern cell wall biosynthesis is not completely well-understood. Therefore, identifying new molecular and genetic targets involved in cell wall synthesis would be beneficial in breeding or engineering new tree variants. This could thereby be exploited for more efficient paper products manufacturing.

ORNL researchers have identified both specific genes and gene networks important for cell wall biosynthesis. These genes of interest and gene networks were identified by layering different sequence, expression, and epigenetic data sets together for bioinformatics analysis. From this information, ORNL researchers were able to identify both multiple genes and gene networks likely to be involved in cell wall biosynthesis using this approach. Previously, these genes and gene networks had not been shown to be involved in this process. These potential targets included mater regulators, which may be responsible for downstream regulation of end effector molecules that directly control steps in cell wall biosynthesis. These genes would be good targets for intervention strategies, as they would be able to alter various points on the biosynthesis pathway simultaneously. Exploiting these genes would allow for the generation of novel tree and plant variants more well-suited for the manufacture of paper and paper products.

Applications and Industries

  • Agribusiness
  • Paper and paper products manufacture 
  • Sustainability and conservation


  • Genes identified have homologs in multiple species
  • Allows identification of not just specific genes, but entire pathways and networks important for cell wall biosynthesis
  • Multiple points of intervention allow for potential fine-tuning of cell wall composition for specific downstream process and product applications