New research to protect plants

Destruction of food – like rotting fruit or moldy vegetables – is a huge problem worldwide. In order to have enough food for everyone we need to find ways to protect plants. A small but important enzyme may play a key role, according to research.
​The enzymes called LPMOs (or Lytic polysaccharide monooxygenases) was discovered half a decade ago, and is today commercialized for industrial saccharification of agricultural residues such as straw. As LPMOs are important in the decomposition process, the understanding of their function can lead to more efficient production of bioethanol from cellulose (read more about this in the journal Biochemical Society Transactions and also at the Chalmers website.)

Katja Salomon Johansen, Associate Professor at Copenhagen University, was until recently a guest researcher in the Chalmers Industrial Biotechnology division, working with Professor Lisbeth Olsson, and is still engaged by the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering. She takes a special interest in LPMOs, and her research was recently published in the journal Trends in Plant Science.
– This paper informs plant scientists about the potential impact of these enzymes on food security, she says.

All of our food comes from plants, one way or the other. Either we eat the crops ourselves, or they are used as feed for animals that end up on our plates. To ensure enough food for a growing population, in line with the UN sustainability goals, we need efficient and sustainable farming with a minimum amount of food waste. And to get there, we need new ways of protecting the plants from microbes under and above ground.
– The plants are always in contact with microbes. Some causes diseases and will reduce the harvest. Other microbes work in a beneficial way for the plants, Katja Salomon Johansen explains.
Researchers have now shown that LPMOs are important for the efficiency of interaction between microbes and plants. The enzymes are secreted by a large number of microorganisms to initiate infection and degradation processes.
– This means that we might reduce disease if we could deploy an inhibitor against the LPMOs. Perhaps – I’m just speculating – we could find a natural inhibitor to spray over the harvest to protect it.
But there is still a long way to go. Katja Salomon Johansen’s review has spawn several new scientific questions.
– Plant scientists are a new crowd that are probably not aware of these enzymes at all. I wanted to raise the awareness, she says.

The article in Trends of Plant Science also touches on the impact of LPMOs on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
– This article is the outcome of my work at Chalmers, I wrote it all there. And the figure that ended up on the first page was a result of the funding I got from the Västra Götalands Region, so this is all linked to my work in Gothenburg, Katja Salomon Johansen says.
– This is one of the top journals in its area. To make the front page made me very happy.

Text: Mia Malmstedt

Published: Tue 29 Nov 2016.