Scientists at Purdue University have found the last undiscovered gene responsible for making of the amino acid phenylalanine. This discovery could lead to controlling this amino acid to raise plants nutritional values and produce better biofuel feedstocks.
Phenylalanine is an amino acid essential in the body of humans, but humans must get it from food they eat (mainly plants). In plants, phenylalanine is important for plant protein synthesis, production of flower scent, anti-oxidants and lignin. Lignin is the principal component in a plant cell wall to help keep the plant stand up and also acts as a barrier in the production of cellulosic ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol is a biofuel produced from wood, grasses and the non-edible parts of plants.
If scientists were able to decrease the amount of phenylalanine in plants, that would lead to a reduction of lignin, which would improve the digestibility of materials originally blocked by the amino acid, creating more biofuel to be easily digested. If scientists could increase phenylalanine in plants, it could potentially boost the nutritional value in some foods. This is because it would increase the amount of anti-oxidents produced in plants (by phenylalanine), which when digested by humans, would have an increased amount of nutritional value.
Finding this gene is important, because now they have all the components needed to replicate this amino acid, hopefully being able to change the amount of phenylalanine in plants, increasing or decreasing depending on the desired function (biofuel or nutrition)