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



Sunthesis of plant cell wall polysaccharides, the relationship of the structures to cell wall functions, and how the system is regulated
Cell Wall Polysaccharide Synthesis
The research program in my lab is 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 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.


Recent Publications

Hamann, T.,  Bennett, M., Mansfield, J., Somerville, C.R. (2009) Identification of cell-wall stress as a hexose-dependent and osmosensitive regulator of plant responses.  Plant J.,57,1015-1026

Carroll, A., Somerville, C.R. (2009) Cellulosic biofuels. Annu. Rev. Plant Biol. 160, 165-82

Martone, P.T., Estevez, J.M., Lu, F., Ruel, K., Ralph, J., Denny, M.W., Somerville, C.R. (2009) Discovery of lignin in seaweed reveals convergent evolution of cell-wall architecture. Curr. Biol., 19, 169-175

Tilman, D., Socolow, R., Foley, J.A., Hill, J., Larson, E., Lynd, L., Pacala, S., Reilly, J., Searchinger, T., Somerville, C., Williams, R. (2009) Beneficial Biofuels—The Food,Energy, and Environment Trilemma. Science, 325,270-271

DeBolt, S., Scheible, W.R., Schrick, K., Auer, M., Beisson, F., Bischoff, V., Bouvier-Nave´, P., Carroll, A., Hematy, K., Li, Y., Milne, J., Nair, M., Schaller, H., Zemla, M. Somerville, C.R. (2009) Mutations in UDP-glucose:sterol glucosyltransferase in Arabidopsis cause transparent testa phenotype and suberization defect in seeds.  Plant Physiol., 151, 78-87.

 Anderson, C.T., Carroll, A., Akhmetova, L., Somerville, C.R. (2010) real time visualization of cellulose reorientation during cell wall expansion in Arabidopsis roots. Plant Physiology 152, 787-796

 Gu, Y., Kaplinsky, N., Cobb, A., Baskin, T., Persson, S., Somerville, C.R. (2010) Identification of a novel protein essential for cellulose synthesis. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci USA  107, 12866-12871

 Chen, S., Ehrhardt, D.W., Somerville, C.R. (2010) Mutations of CesA1 phosphorylation sites modulate anisotropic cell expansion and bidirectional mobility of cellulose synthase. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci USA, 107, 17188-17193

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

Gu, Y. and Somerville, C.R. (2010) Cellulose synthase interacting protein: A new factor in cellulose synthesis. Plant Signaling Behavior 5:1571-1574.

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

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 Biologists - 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