Building on the collaboration between IBM Research – Australia and its University of Melbourne node, the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls is using IBM’s specialised computational skills to provide ground-breaking insights into cell wall structure.
Multi-nodal teams are using the supercomputer of the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI) to improve understanding of how the construction of cell wall polysaccharides and their assembly into walls generates a ‘dynamic composite’ that fulfils different functions. The wall must act as a structurally rigid skeleton that enables plants to grow to great heights, but must also be sufficiently flexible to allow tissues to develop into a mature shape. Cell walls also sense the external environment, responding to biological and physical stresses.
The projects with IBM focus on the development of a 3D dynamic computational model of the plant’s wall as a tool for future research initiatives. The model will predict interactions with the plasma membrane and cytoskeleton at the molecular scale (individual cellulose microfibrils) and at coarse-grained levels (composites of microfibrils).
Other projects are using molecular simulations to develop computational models of the polysaccharide synthases that assemble major wall polysaccharides.