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Chemical composition and enzymatic digestibility of sugarcane clones selected for varied lignin content

Fernando Masarin1, Daniela B Gurpilhares1, David CF Baffa2, Márcio HP Barbosa2, Walter Carvalho1, André Ferraz1 and Adriane MF Milagres1*

Author Affiliations

1 Departamento de Biotecnologia, Escola de Engenharia de Lorena, Universidade de São Paulo, CP 116, 12602-810 Lorena, SP, Brasil

2 Departamento de Fitotecnia, Universidade Federal de Viçosa, Viçosa, MG, Brazil

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Biotechnology for Biofuels 2011, 4:55  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-4-55

Published: 6 December 2011



The recalcitrance of lignocellulosic materials is a major limitation for their conversion into fermentable sugars. Lignin depletion in new cultivars or transgenic plants has been identified as a way to diminish this recalcitrance. In this study, we assessed the success of a sugarcane breeding program in selecting sugarcane plants with low lignin content, and report the chemical composition and agronomic characteristics of eleven experimental hybrids and two reference samples. The enzymatic digestion of untreated and chemically delignified samples was evaluated to advance the performance of the sugarcane residue (bagasse) in cellulosic-ethanol production processes.


The ranges for the percentages of glucan, hemicellulose, lignin, and extractive (based on oven-dry biomass) of the experimental hybrids and reference samples were 38% to 43%, 25% to 32%, 17% to 24%, and 1.6% to 7.5%, respectively. The samples with the smallest amounts of lignin did not produce the largest amounts of total polysaccharides. Instead, a variable increase in the mass of a number of components, including extractives, seemed to compensate for the reduction in lignin content. Hydroxycinnamic acids accounted for a significant part of the aromatic compounds in the samples, with p-coumaric acid predominating, whereas ferulic acid was present only in low amounts. Hydroxycinnamic acids with ester linkage to the hemicelluloses varied from 2.3% to 3.6%. The percentage of total hydroxycinnamic acids (including the fraction linked to lignin through ether linkages) varied from 5.0% to 9.2%, and correlated to some extent with the lignin content. These clones released up to 31% of glucose after 72 hours of digestion with commercial cellulases, whereas chemically delignified samples led to cellulose conversion values of more than 80%. However, plants with lower lignin content required less delignification to reach higher efficiencies of cellulose conversion during the enzymatic treatment.


Some of the experimental sugarcane hybrids did have the combined characteristics of high biomass and high sucrose production with low lignin content. Conversion of glucan to glucose by commercial cellulases was increased in the samples with low lignin content. Chemical delignification further increased the cellulose conversion to values of more than 80%. Thus, plants with lower lignin content required less delignification to reach higher efficiencies of cellulose conversion during the enzymatic treatment.