Science, the world’s leading journal of original scientific research, featured the findings of a global team of cellulose researchers, including Professor Barry Goodell, head of the Department of Wood Science and Forest Products, it its July 14 issue. The diverse group has been studying how plants are decomposed at the end of their life span in order to provide insight into several important issues ranging from the development of cellulosic biofuels to the cycling of carbon in the environment.

“The journal article details how common ‘wood rotting’ fungi have evolved with plants to become highly efficient degraders of plant biomass in nature,” said Goodell. “In particular, our research team showed that certain types of fungi became more energetically efficient over time as they adapted to the evolutionary changes that occurred in trees — a co-evolutionary process.” How woody plants evolve and how fungi work symbiotically with them is important for a number of reasons, including the development and sustainable production of biofuels.

While the article’s primary author is from England, labs from around the world worked on the project. “The international collaboration demonstrated the global relevance of the research, and it was essential to have this sort of teamwork to move a project of this size forward,” noted Goodell. “The research has practical implications in that it provides tools to deconstruct cellulosic materials and wood by mimicking nature to produce some of the basic building blocks that are needed in green industries.” The work also points to new biochemical pathways for the deconstruction of cellulose from sustainable biomaterials that will be useful in the production of feedstocks for cellulosic biofuels.