CoPIs: Joel J. Ducoste (North Carolina State University), Fikret Isik (North Carolina State University), John Ralph (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Ronald R. Sederoff (North Carolina State University)

Climate change has become the most important factor affecting plants in agriculture and natural ecosystems through increasing environmental stress. Transport of water and nutrients and the resistance of plants to pests and pathogens are dependent on lignin, a phenolic polymer and a structural component of many plant cell walls. The mechanisms of regulation of lignin biosynthesis are largely unknown. The project seeks to build models to describe how the pathway is regulated and to reveal new control mechanisms, leading to lignin polymers. The project will use the model woody plant, Populus trichocarpa (black cottonwood) and a systems approach including advanced quantitative methods of genomics, proteomics, biochemistry and structural chemistry, to provide a comprehensive analysis of the regulation of lignin biosynthesis. A perturbation strategy will be used to reduce the expression of all genes known to be involved in lignin biosynthesis during wood formation and the effects on lignin analyzed using advanced genomic methods available. Quantitative models of lignin biosynthesis would guide strategies for improved plant productivity, production of materials, energy, and food.

Broader Impacts: Global warming increases stresses on plants and increases susceptibility to pests and pathogens. The ability of woody plants to establish forest ecosystems depends on lignin. Lignin is the main barrier to the utilization of biomass for energy, for papermaking, and for forage digestibility. Understanding the fundamental nature of lignin biosynthesis will lead to improved crops and can also aid in resistance to drought, pests and pathogens.

Graduate and postdoctoral education and training in systems biology is a major emphasis of this project. Students and postdocs will develop a rigorous understanding of plant metabolic networks and the broader implications of systems biology for plant adaptation to changing environments and the implications for our nation's agriculture. The outreach/education efforts focus on under-represented groups at the university and high school levels. Project-specific research training/learning opportunities will be offered and efforts will also focus on developing curricular materials for nation-wide dissemination to bring cutting-edge plant genomics/systems biology to high school classrooms. The project aims to interest students from under-represented groups in careers in science and technology.

A database (LigninSystemsDB) containing all project data and protocols will be accessible to the public at the project website ( Results from this project will be linked to long term databases, including GEO (, BRENDA ( or SABIO-RK (, KEGG ( and PLANTCYC (, and DENDROM( The project will also provide new annotation to the poplar genome through the DOE/JGI poplar genome portal ( All trees and other biological materials generated by this project will be publicly available for further research through the project website ( or by contacting the PI at

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS)
Application #
Program Officer
Diane Jofuku Okamuro
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
North Carolina State University Raleigh
United States
Zip Code