Dr Shawn Mansfield, Professor in the Department of Wood Science, has just been awarded the David J Gifford Award in Tree Biology from the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists. The award, which was handed out recently at Plant Biology 2014 (American Society of Plant Biologists), in Portland, Oregon, is given in recognition for “outstanding research contributions in tree biology, primarily in Canada”, with “special consideration … given to originality and independence of thought.” The Award was established in 1988 and is made only periodically. Dr Mansfield is the second faculty member in the Faculty to have received this award, following Dr Robert Guy in 2012, making it the first time the award has been given to recipients from the same faculty.
Dr Mansfield’s research program at the University of British Columbia focuses on the molecular, functional biochemical and ultrastructural characterization of plant cell wall biosynthesis. His research is based, in part, on studies of the molecular biochemistry of tree secondary cell wall metabolism, generally using poplar as a model organism. This research uses a unique combination of molecular biology, biochemistry, analytical chemistry and plant cell wall characterization techniques, to elucidate the influence of various biosynthetic pathways on the development, growth, chemistry and ultrastructure of secondary xylem formation in trees. In addition, the laboratory simultaneously attempts to link plant fibre traits to processing and end-product quality. Dr Mansfield’s research program is primarily designed as fundamental and curiosity-driven research, the results of his research program can potentially translated into economic and environmental value for the long-term sustainability of Canada’s forest sector. This is very well illustrated by his recent high-profile, co-first authored Science article entitled “Monolignol ferulate transferase introduces chemically labile linkages into the lignin backbone” (Wilkerson, Mansfield & Lu et al 2014). In this work, the authors reasoned that if one could identify and then appropriately express a coniferyl ferulate feruloyl-CoA monolignol transferase (isolated from Angelica)in poplar, then the occasional monomer might be introduced into the much more recalcitrant poplar lignin, allowing it to easily “unzip” during chemical depolymerization. This strategy worked well, and the resulting trees show no difference in growth under glasshouse conditions.
Presently, among other research efforts, Dr Mansfield is also a Co-Project Leader of a highly successful, multi-million dollar Genome Canada funded research program aimed at genetic improvement of poplar trees as bioenergy feedstock. The work, with others, involves a massive assessment of natural genetic variation to elucidate the genomic underpinnings of growth, adaptation and wood properties of Canadian poplar species. Arising from this extensive collaboration are several recent co-authored papers in high impact journals such as PNAS, New Phytologist, Plant Physiology, PLoS ONE, Molecular Ecology Resources and BMC Genomics. Dr Shawn Mansfield has made “outstanding research contributions in tree biology” and has shown exceptional “originality and independence of thought” in pursuit of his science and its applications.
Original post here.