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Improved Crops with Increased Galactan Content




Researchers at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have developed a suite of technologies to engineer feedstock plants with increased galactan content. Specifically, the technology involves overexpressing Arabidopsis beta-1,4-galactan synthase genes. These can be expressed alone or in conjunction with genes involved in UDP-Galactose biosynthesis, thus increasing the availability of UDP-galactose to increase both beta-1,4-galactan in the cell walls and, more generally, the galactose component of cell wall matrix polysaccharides. Furthermore, the genes may be expressed in conjunction with genes encoding specific UDP-galactose transporters with a preference for pectin-related transport. The technology is applicable to a large number of feedstock plants including Arabidopsis, poplar, eucalyptus, rice, switchgrass, pine and others.

Galactans are composed of hexoses that are easily fermented, in contrast to the hemicellulose xylan, the most abundant non-cellulosic component of biomass, which is composed of pentoses, which are difficult to ferment. By increasing galactan content, the JBEI technology has the potential to increase digestibility and yield of fermentable sugars of feedstocks. Galactan also has the potential to substitute for pentosans, polysaccharides made of pentoses, in lignocellulosic biomass.

This technology may be used in combination with JBEI technology EIB-3003 and EIB-2996, described here, to enable substitution of xylan with galactan in specific cell types and avoid adverse effects on plant growth.

DEVELOPMENT STAGE: Proven principle.


Liwanag, A.J.M., Ebert, B., Verhertbruggen, Y., Rennie, E.A., Rautengarten, C., Oikawa, A., Andersen, M.C.F., Clausen, M.H., Scheller, H.V. “Pectin Biosynthesis: GALS1 in Arapbidopsis thaliana Is a β-1, 4-Galactin β-1,4-Galactosyltransferase, The Plant Cell, Vol 24:5024-5036, December 2012.

STATUS: Patent pending. Available for licensing or collaborative research.


The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI, is a scientific partnership led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and including the Sandia National Laboratories, the University of California campuses of Berkeley and Davis, the Carnegie Institution for Science and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. JBEI’s primary scientific mission is to advance the development of the next generation of biofuels.


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