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Department of Biochemistry

Plant cells produce an extracellular matrix, the cell wall, which determines and maintains the shape of cells and serves a protective barrier. Plant cell walls are highly complex structures composed predominantly of a diverse set of polysaccharides that vary in structure and abundance. Cellulose is the most abundant polysaccharide on earth, followed by xylan, a hemicellulosic component of the plant cell wall. Characterisation of the different polysaccharides synthesised in plant species dates back to the early 19th century. Double Nobel Prize winner Fred Sanger discusses plant biochemistry with Paul Dupree at the opening of our lab.Major advances like the identification of the cellulose synthase complex or more recently the characterisation of the xylan synthesis machinery propelled the field forward. However, many fundamental aspects of the relationship between the polysaccharide structure and its function, and the molecular function of glycosyltransferases responsible for diverse steps in polysaccharide synthesis are still unknown. The complex polysaccharides produced by plants, which form the largest biomass on earth, are utilized around the globe in countless commercial and industrial processes such as the food and textile industry, production of building materials and paper products. Recently, plant polysaccharides edge ever closer to the spotlight, as they provide a sustainable resource for energy production. Our research involves using genetic, biochemical and microbiological techniques in conjunction with mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance based methods to study the structure, synthesis and trafficking pathways of cell wall polysaccharides.
As plant scientists, we are part of the Cambridge University Hub CambPlants and specifically contribute to the University of Cambridge Bioenergy Initiative. Our aim here is to understand the complex biochemistry of the plant cell wall, which includes but is not limited to polysaccharide biosynthesis and interaction of polysaccharides with other cell wall components. The knowledge gained through our work can be used to improve processes of utilisation of biomaterials for downstream applications, like biofuel production.
We are also part of the Natural Material Innovation Centre, which is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. This centre brings together scientists, engineers, and architects to develop new natural materials representing a sustainable alternative to traditional materials. Our aim here is to understand and improve wood properties for building construction (Seeds to skyscrapers).

Since August 2018 we are part of the Center for Lignocellulose Structure & Formation (CLSF), an Energy Frontier Research Center established by the US Department of Energy. The centre combines the expertise of a diverse group of researchers in order to increase our fundamental knowledge on biopolymers in the plant cell wall for the sustainable use of biomaterials.

In addition, since beginning of 2019, we are part of the newly established Centre for Circular Economy Approaches to Eliminate Plastic Waste, a program funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Within this program we analyse structural properties of polysaccharides in order to find suitable plastic alternatives to tackle one of the major challenges of the 21st century.

The Dupree Group is located in the Hopkins Building of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge.

Contact details


Prof Paul Dupree


Tel: +44 (0)1223 333340



General Lab

Tel: +44 (0)1223 333686



Department of Biochemistry

University of Cambridge

Hopkins Building Tennis Court Road



United Kingdom