Chris R. Somerville
Chris R. Somerville
Biofuels, Polysaccharides, Industrial Microbiology
Philomathia Professor of Alternative Energy and EBI Director
Energy Biosciences Building, 2151 Berkeley Way
Berkeley, California 94720
Phone 510.643.6265
Lab Phone 510.642.1487
Fax 510.642.4995

PhD  Genetics    University of Alberta, 1978
B.Sc.   Mathematics    University of Alberta, 1974



The research program in my lab has been largely directed toward understanding how plant cell wall polysaccharides are synthesized, how the structures relate to the functions of the cell wall, and how the system is regulated. I envision that knowledge of cell wall structure and function will facilitate the development of plants with improved utility as sources of renewable materials such as paper and cellulose nanocrystals, and as biofuel feedstocks.

A major focus of work in the lab is in understanding how cellulose is made. We have developed plants in which cellulose synthase is modified in various ways that facilitate functional studies. One type of modification is the addition of yellow fluorescent protein to subunits of the complex. This allows imaging of the complexes in live cells. We have used this capability to show that an interaction between cellulose synthase and cortical microtubules controls the orientation of cellulose deposition. We are engaged in understanding what regulates the amount of cellulose and the properties of cellulose microfibrils (eg., length and diameter). We have also developed plants that express cellulose synthases with other modifications that will facilitate structural studies of isolated complexes.

I am also interested in some aspects of how fungi O-glycosylate proteins and the role that O-glycosylation plays in protein secretion and function. I also have a long-term interest in the potential for using CAM plants grown in arid environments as sources of biomaterials and chemicals.

Recent Publications

Somerville, C., Youngs, H., Taylor, C., Davis, S., and Long, S.P. (2010). Feedstocks for lignocellulosic biofuels. Science 329: 790-792.

Velasquez, S.M., M. Ricardi, M.M., Dorosz, J.G., Fernandez, P.V., Nadra, A.D., Pol-Fachin, L.,  Egelund, J., Gille, S., Harholt, J., Ciancia, M., Verli, H., Pauly, M., Bacic, A., Olsen, C.E., r Ulvskov, P., Petersen, B.L., Somerville, C., Iusem, N.D. & Estevez, J.M. (2011) O-glycosylated cell wall proteins are essential in root hair growth. Science 332,1401-1403

Sánchez-Rodríguez, C., ,Hématy, K., Ibáñez-Zamora, A.B., Saxe, F., Vodermaier, V., Sampathkumar, A., Rüggeberg, M., Neumetzler, L., Burgert, I., Aichinger, E., Bauer, S., Hauser, M.T.,  Somerville, C.R., Persson, S. (2012) CTL1/POM1 and its homolog CTL2 are glucan interacting proteins essential for cellulose biosynthesis. Plant Cell 24, 589-607

Li, S., Lei, L., Somerville, C., Gu, Y. (2011) CSI1 links microtubules and cellulose synthase complexes. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci USA 109, 185-190

Anderson, C., Wallace, I., Somerville C.R. (2012) Metabolic click labeling with a fucose analog reveals pectin delivery, architecture, and dynamics in Arabidopsis cell walls. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci USA 109, 1329-1334

Somerville, C.R. (2012) Deciphering the parts list for the mechanical plant. Daedalus, 141 (3), 89-97

Harris D.M., Corbin, K., Wang,T., Gutierrez,R., Bertolo, A.L., Petti, C., Smilgies, D.M., Estevez, J.M., Bonetta, D., Urbanowicz, B., Ehrhardt, D.W., Somerville, C., Rose, J.K.C., Hong, M., DeBolt, S, (2012) Cellulose microfibril crystallinity is reduced by mutating C-terminal transmembrane region residues CESA1A-V903 and CESA3T-I942. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 109, 4098-4103

Youngs, H.L., and Somerville, C.R. (2012) Growing better biofuel crops. The Scientist 26, 46-52

Carroll, A., Mansoori, N., Li, S., Lei, L., Vernhettes, S., Visser, R.G.F., Somerville, C.R., Gu, Y., Trindade, L.M. (2012) Complexes with mixed primary and secondary cellulose synthases are functional in Arabidopsis thaliana plants. Plant Physiol., 160, 726-737

Sorek, N., Yeats, T., Szemenyei, H., Youngs, H., Somerville, CR (2013) The Implications of Lignocellulosic Biomass Chemical Composition for the Production of Advanced Biofuels. Bioscience doi: 10.1093/biosci/bit037

Benz, JP, Protzko, RJ, Andrich, JMS, Dueber, JE, Somerville, CR (2014) Identification and characterization of a galacturonic acid transporter from Neurospora crassa and its application for Saccharomyces cerevisiae fermentation processes. Biotechnol. Biofuels 2014, 7:20

Benz, JP, Chau, BH, Zheng, D, Bauer, S, Glass, NL, Somerville, CR (2013) Pectin Degradation Put Into Context: A Comparative Systems Analysis Using the Model Filamentous Fungus Neurospora crassa. Molecular Micro., 91(2):275-99 doi:10.1111/mmi.12459

Xiao, C., Somerville, C.R., Anderson, C.T. (2014) Activation Tag Screening Reveals the Function of POLYGALACTURONASE INVOLVED IN EXPANSION 1 in Cell Elongation and Flower Development in Arabidopsis thaliana. Plant Cell 26,1018-1035

Youngs, H. and Somerville, C.R. (2014) Data-based standards should guide biofuel production. Science 344, 1096-1097

Sorek, N, Sorek, H, Kijac, A, Szemenyei, H, Bauer, S, Hématy, K, Wemmer, DE and Somerville, CR. (2014) The Arabidopsis COBRA protein facilitates cellulose crystallization at the plasma membrane.  J. Biol. Chem. 289,34911-34920

Honors and Awards

Presidential Green Chemistry Award (2010)
American Chemical Society Sterling B. Hendricks Memorial Lectureship Award (2010)
Balzan Prize - Fondazione Internationale Balzan - 2007
Fellow - American Society of Plant Biologist - 2007
D.Sc. - Guelph University - 2006

Mendel Medal - Genetics Society - 2004

Hopkins Medal - Biochemical Society - 2004

Elected fellow - Academia Europa - 2002

Kuhmo Award - International Plant Molecular Biology Society - 2001

D.Sc. - Wageningen University - 1998

D.Sc. - University of Alberta - 1997

Elected member - US National Academy of Sciences - 1996

D.Sc. - Queens University - 1993

Elected Fellow - Royal Society of Canada - 1993

Gibbs Medal - American Society of Plant Biologists - 1993

Elected Fellow - Royal Society of London - 1991

Schull Award - American Society of Plant Biologists - 1987