Staffan Persson’s research group aims at understanding how plants produce their cell walls; an extracellular matrix mainly composed of sugar-based polymers, called polysaccharides. We are particularly interested in deciphering how the cell wall polymer cellulose is produced and how the synthesis is regulated. The cell wall may be seen as a cellular corset that forces cells into distinct shapes and provides the strength for plants to grow tall and thin. Cellulose is the load-bearing structure in the cell wall and therefore contributes substantially to plant cell morphology.
Cellulose is also of importance to many types of industries, providing textiles, papers, fuel, and medical appliances. Cellulose consists of glucan chains that are hydrogen-bonded into microfibrils synthesized at the cell surface of all plant cells. These microfibrils are produced by large multimeric cellulose synthase (CESA) complexes at the surface of the cells. The CESA complexes move forward in the membrane during synthesis because the cellulose microfibrils are entangled in the cell wall and further synthesis, therefore, pushes the complex forward. The direction of the movement of the complex is typically directed by the cytoskeleton. A major goal of my group is to understand how the CESA complex is regulated, what the components involved in making cellulose are, how the cytoskeleton impacts cellulose synthesis, and the means that the cell wall uses to communicate with the interior of the cell.