Plant scientist Rosario García-Gil received a "medal" for her contribution to science and collaborations. Photo by courtesy of Rosario Garcìa-Gil.

Bio4Energy Researcher Awarded Medal for ‘Exceptional Contribution’

Bio4Energy researcher Rosario García-Gil has been awarded a prize for “exemplary and exceptional contribution of lasting value” for her work as a plant scientist and a research leader at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) at Umeå, Sweden. It comes in the form of a gold medal.

“Right from the start Rosario García-Gil focused on research that can benefit the world around us. Much of it is about tree breeding for increased wood production. She also treats issues of ecology and sustainability. She has built a large number of collaborations to reach her goals”, according to a press release from the SLU.

Surprised but seemingly delighted, assistant professor García-Gil replied to an e-mail invitation from Bio4Energy Communications.

“This is… totally unexpected”, she wrote, “but you know, working with excellent people brings the best of you”.

Biologist García-Gil trained at the University of Valencia in Spain and served as a researcher at the University of Uleåborg, Finland; before taking up her role at SLU and Umeå Plant Science Centre in 2005.

Among research efforts with Bio4Energy, the co-coordination of two large projects stands out. Whereas one is a multinational project on the integration of UN Sustainable Development Goals in Forest Management, the other aims to integrate the concept of remote sensing in studies that draw on forest genetics. The aim of the latter is to adapt forest management practises to altered conditions brought about by a changing climate.

In terms of collaboration with other members of the Bio4Energy research environment, García-Gil and her team are part of projects on the effect of drought on spruce wood chemistry and feedstock use, as well as detecting and quantifying resin canals in spruce.

Polymer Lignin May Be Modified for Drought Resistance in Plants

Bio4Energy Associated Member Edouard Pesquet, previously with Umeå University, is part of a group of internationally leading scientists on fundamental research on the plant polymer lignin. Pesquet was part of the organisation team that started the international conference Lignin in 2014. Because of his experience with Bio4Energy at Umeå, Sweden and the support he gained during his time here—becoming a Gunnar Öquist Fellow—Pesquet has continued being part of, and publishing with, the Bio4Energy Research Environment. 

Stockholm, 22 September 2022
A new study shows that we can create and select plants that can better recover from drought without affecting the size of the plant or seed yield, by genetically modifying their lignin chemistry. These results could be used in both agriculture and forestry to tackle future climatic challenges.

Lignin, the second most abundant biopolymer on Earth, represents about 30 percent of the total carbon on the planet. It allows plants to conduct water and stand up right; without lignin, plants cannot grow nor survive.

For long, scientists did not consider that lignin had a “code” like in DNA or proteins. Researchers led by Stockholm University, Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences (DEEP), in collaboration with Stockholm University Department of Material Sciences (MMK) and Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology (TUAT); have now challenged this old paradigm by demonstrating the existence of a lignin chemical “code”.

They showed that each cell uses this code to adjust their lignin to function at its optimum and resist stresses. These results are published in the high-ranking scientific journal The Plant Cell and could be used in both agriculture and forestry to tackle future climatic challenges.

“It takes only one simple chemical change, just one hydrogen atom apart from alcohol to aldehyde to make plants highly resilient to drought in conditions where alcohol-rich plants would all die”, explained Edouard Pesquet, associated professor in molecular plant physiology and senior author of the study.

Interestingly, professor Shinya Kajita from TUAT showed that such large increases of lignin aldehydes can occur naturally in the wild. In the Japanese silk industry for example, mulberry with high lignin aldehyde levels have long been used and loved by silk caterpillars.

“These results [not only] revise our understanding of lignin and plant water conduction, but also open great possibilities to use the lignin ‘code’ to improve crops and trees to face water availability problems. The modification of lignin chemistry at the single cell level, is ultimately the mechanism enabling plants to grow, hydrate and resist climate change stresses”, Pesquet said.

Text by Amanda Gonzalez Bengtsson, with editing by Anna Strom

Edouard Pesquet, Stockholm University — Bio4Energy Associated Member, formerly with Bio4Energy at Umeå University and Umeå Plant Science Centre
Aji Mathew, Stockholm University — Formerly with Bio4Energy at Luleå University of Technology

Scientific articles
Plant biomechanics and resilience to environmental changes are controlled by specific lignin chemistries in each vascular cell type and morphotype, by Ménard, Blaschek et al. is published in the journal The Plant Cell September 2022.

RISE to Invest SEK350 Million in Its Biorefinery Test Bed Environments

Bio4Energy partner RISE Research Institutes of Sweden have committed to an investment of SEK350 million in the “coming years” to expand their test bed environments at Piteå and elsewhere in Sweden. 

“In the coming years, we at RISE will make an additional investment of 350 million kronor to strengthen our range of test beds in biorefinery and establish a world-class centre for upscaling of processes pertaining to a circular bioeconomy”, said Magnus Hallberg, head of division at RISE Bioeconomy and Health, in a press release.

Elisabeth Wetterlund, Bio4Energy deputy programme manager, attended the inauguration ceremony 15 September.

“This [expansion] will open the door to more exciting strategic collaborations between RISE Piteå and several of the Bio4Energy platforms, so that we can develop even further our knowledge about processing and upgrading of different types of residual streams to renewable fuels, materials and chemicals”, according to Wetterlund, professor at Luleå University of Technology.

“The new and expanded ted bed activities at RISE are incredibly important to the development, upscaling and industrialisation of different biorefinery processes—for Bio4Energy and for Sweden at large”, she said. 

IEA: Bioenergy Part of Sustainable Energy Mix

Bio4Energy highlights a September 2022 press release by the International Energy Agency’s Bioenergy branch (IEA Bioenergy). The press release aims to dispel “misconceptions and misrepresentations” in relation to use of low-quality forest biomass for energy purposes. The press release may be found here, Facts, not fiction: Bioenergy from wood contributes to Europe’s energy security and is part of a sustainable energy mix.