The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Inc.

Insight into plant chemical processes could benefit society

Issued - March 16, 2012

ARDMORE, Okla. — An international collaboration between researchers at The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation and the RIKEN Plant Science Center in Yokohama, Japan, aims to understand complex plant processes that can aid in the development of renewable energy resources and help advance a low carbon society.

Led by Noble Foundation Professor Lloyd W. Sumner, Ph.D., and RIKEN’s Kazuki Saito, Ph.D., the team will use large-scale profiling of hundreds to thousands of metabolites (i.e., chemical compounds that are major building blocks and energy sources within plants) to better understand genes associated with key plant processes like increasing biomass, increasing oil production, and decreasing key cell wall components related to biofuels production. "A detailed understanding of these processes is a critical prerequisite for building a low carbon society and the development of renewable energy resources," Sumner said.

The Noble Foundation-RIKEN collaboration is one of four joint United States and Japanese research teams that were awarded a total of about $12 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) under the new "Metabolomics for a Low Carbon Society" program, the first jointly coordinated program between the two agencies. The program hopes to increase the production of renewable biofuels and reduce pesticide use.

Scientists and researchers from Iowa State University, Chiba University (Japan) and the Kazusa DNA Institute (Japan) are also involved in the Noble-RIKEN project.

A major challenge to the research is the identification and understanding of the vast array of metabolites present in plants. There are between 10,000 and 15,000 metabolites in any given plant, and currently researchers can only identify the properties in about 10-20 percent.

"Identifying and understanding the function of all metabolites is a massive undertaking," Sumner said. "As part of this collaboration, we will develop new technologies to identify more metabolites and then use these to deepen our understanding of the genes directly related to key traits, like biomass and oil production."

Noble Foundation Professor Lloyd Sumner, Ph.D., is one of the principal investigators on an international project to identify valuable plant chemical processes.


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The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Inc. (, headquartered in Ardmore, Okla., is a nonprofit organization conducting agricultural, forage improvement and plant biology research; assisting farmers and ranchers through educational and consultative agricultural programs; and providing grants to nonprofit charitable, educational and health organizations.