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A new systems biology model that mimics the process of wood formation allows scientists to predict the effects of switching on and off 21 pathway genes involved in producing lignin, a primary component of wood. The model, built on more than three decades of research, will speed the process of engineering trees for specific needs in timber, biofuel, pulp, paper and green chemistry applications. Lignin, which forms in the plant cell wall, is an essential component for tree growth that imparts strength and density to timber. But lignin must be removed from wood during biofuel, paper and pulp production through costly treatments that require high heat and harsh chemicals. The new model could serve as a foundation for future work, and could expand to incorporate new components and processes.

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