Debra Mohnen

Debra Mohnen
Biomass & Bioenergy, DOE Center, Plant Cell Walls - Biosynthesis, Structure, and Function, Tenure-Track Faculty
Distinguished Research Professor
2044 Complex Carbohydrate Research Center

Short Biography:

Debra Mohnen is a Distinguished Research Professor at the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, as well as the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Georgia. Dr. Mohnen received her B.A. in Biology (1979) at Lawrence University, Appleton, WI and her M.S. in Botany (1981) and Ph.D. in Plant Biology (1985) from the University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, with research conducted at the Friedrich Miescher Institute, Basel, Switzerland. Prior to joining the CCRC, she carried out five years of postdoctoral research at the CCRC and USDA, ARS, Russell Research Center in Athens, Georgia. Dr. Mohnen has served as Chair of the Plant Cell Wall Gordon Conference and since 1990 has lead a research team focusing on pectin synthesis, structure and function, with emphasis on the role of pectin glycan domains in wall architecture and plant cell growth. In 2008 she was awarded the Bruce Stone Award for research in pectin synthesis and elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2013. Her research on synthesis of the two pectin glycan backbones, homogalacturonan and rhamnogalacturonan, led to the discovery of the GAUT and RGGAT families of glycosyltransferases and the recognition that pectin exists and functions as a family of glycan domains in cell wall heteroglycans and glycoconjugates. Since 2007 part of her research has been directed at improving plant biomass yield, sustainability and composition for the production of biofuel and biomaterials. As Focus Area Lead of Plant Biomass Formation and Modification in the DOE-funded BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), she directed a team of researchers aimed at understanding and overcoming biomass recalcitrance to deconstruction and since 2017 she serves as Research Domain Lead for Integrative Analysis and Understanding in the Center for Bioenergy Innovation (CBI). Her current efforts are focused on a new model for pectin function in cell expansion and wall structure. 

Research Interests:
Dr. Mohnen’s research focuses on the biosynthesis, function and structure of plant cell wall polysaccharides and glycoconjugates, with emphasis on pectin, matrix polysaccharides and wall proteoglycans.

The research goals include:

*Understanding the structure, biosynthesis and function of wall polymers that contain pectic glycans.

*Improving plant growth and development, and the use and conversion of plant cell wall biomass to biofuels and bioproducts, through modification of wall structure and synthesis.

*Reevaluation of plant cell wall models based on recently identified wall matrix glycan-containing proteoglycan structures, and glycosyltransferase gene family member functionalities, that are inconsistent with current wall models.

The research includes biochemical, chemical, molecular genetic and genomic methods and use of both model systems (e.g. Arabidopsis and rice) and biomass feedstock (e.g. Populus and switchgrass).