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Department of Biochemistry

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Plant cells produce an extracellular matrix, the cell wall, which determines and maintains the shape of cells and serves as 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. 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 utilised 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.

Research in the Dupree Group 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 University of Cambridge CambPlants Hub and we specifically contribute to the University's 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 the 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 Centre for Natural Material Innovation, 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 the 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.


Contact details

Research Group Leader  Paul Dupree


Location  Hopkins Building


The Dupree Group is accepting enquiries from prospective interns, undergraduate students, postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers.