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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Reaction wood – a key cause of variation in cell wall recalcitrance in willow

Nicholas JB Brereton1*, Michael J Ray1, Ian Shield2, Peter Martin3, Angela Karp2 and Richard J Murphy1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College, London, SW7 2AZ, UK

2 Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, AL5 2JQ, UK

3 The Agronomy Institute, Orkney College, University of the Highlands and Islands, East Road, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1LX, UK

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Biotechnology for Biofuels 2012, 5:83  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-5-83

Published: 22 November 2012

Abstract

Background

The recalcitrance of lignocellulosic cell wall biomass to deconstruction varies greatly in angiosperms, yet the source of this variation remains unclear. Here, in eight genotypes of short rotation coppice willow (Salix sp.) variability of the reaction wood (RW) response and the impact of this variation on cell wall recalcitrance to enzymatic saccharification was considered.

Results

A pot trial was designed to test if the ‘RW response’ varies between willow genotypes and contributes to the differences observed in cell wall recalcitrance to enzymatic saccharification in field-grown trees. Biomass composition was measured via wet chemistry and used with glucose release yields from enzymatic saccharification to determine cell wall recalcitrance. The levels of glucose release found for pot-grown control trees showed no significant correlation with glucose release from mature field-grown trees. However, when a RW phenotype was induced in pot-grown trees, glucose release was strongly correlated with that for mature field-grown trees. Field studies revealed a 5-fold increase in glucose release from a genotype grown at a site exposed to high wind speeds (a potentially high RW inducing environment) when compared with the same genotype grown at a more sheltered site.

Conclusions

Our findings provide evidence for a new concept concerning variation in the recalcitrance to enzymatic hydrolysis of the stem biomass of different, field-grown willow genotypes (and potentially other angiosperms). Specifically, that genotypic differences in the ability to produce a response to RW inducing conditions (a ‘RW response’) indicate that this RW response is a primary determinant of the variation observed in cell wall glucan accessibility. The identification of the importance of this RW response trait in willows, is likely to be valuable in selective breeding strategies in willow (and other angiosperm) biofuel crops and, with further work to dissect the nature of RW variation, could provide novel targets for genetic modification for improved biofuel feedstocks.

Keywords:
Biofuel; Willow (Salix); Lignocellulose; Reaction wood; Recalcitrance (saccharification); Cell wall Composition