Scientists at Michigan State University led by biochemistry and molecular biology professor Christoph Benning have identified a new protein necessary for chloroplast development. The discovery could ultimately lead to plant varieties tailored specifically for biofuel production. Chloroplasts, which are specialized compartments in plant cells, convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into sugars and oxygen, fuel for the plant, during photosynthesis. The newly discovered protein, trigalactosyldiacylglycerol 4, or TGD4, offers insight into how the process works. The protein directly affects photosynthesis and how plants create biomass (stems, leaves and stalks) and oils. The research, published in the August 2008 issue of journal The Plant Cell, shows how TGD4 is essential for the plant to make chloroplasts. Plants that don't have the protein die before they can develop beyond the embryonic stage. Understanding how TGD4 works may allow scientists to create plants that would be used exclusively to produce biofuels, possibly making the process more cost-effective. Most plants that are used to produce oils – corn, soybeans and canola, for example – accumulate the oil in their seeds.