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Open Access Research

Lignin biosynthesis perturbations affect secondary cell wall composition and saccharification yield in Arabidopsis thaliana

Rebecca Van Acker12, Ruben Vanholme12, Véronique Storme12, Jennifer C Mortimer3, Paul Dupree3 and Wout Boerjan12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Plant Systems Biology, VIB, Technologiepark 927, Gent, 9052, Belgium

2 Department of Plant Biotechnology and Bioinformatics, Ghent University, Gent, 9052, Belgium

3 Department of Biochemistry, Cambridge University, Cambridge, CB2 1QW, United Kingdom

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Biotechnology for Biofuels 2013, 6:46  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-6-46

Published: 26 April 2013

Abstract

Background

Second-generation biofuels are generally produced from the polysaccharides in the lignocellulosic plant biomass, mainly cellulose. However, because cellulose is embedded in a matrix of other polysaccharides and lignin, its hydrolysis into the fermentable glucose is hampered. The senesced inflorescence stems of a set of 20 Arabidopsis thaliana mutants in 10 different genes of the lignin biosynthetic pathway were analyzed for cell wall composition and saccharification yield. Saccharification models were built to elucidate which cell wall parameters played a role in cell wall recalcitrance.

Results

Although lignin is a key polymer providing the strength necessary for the plant’s ability to grow upward, a reduction in lignin content down to 64% of the wild-type level in Arabidopsis was tolerated without any obvious growth penalty. In contrast to common perception, we found that a reduction in lignin was not compensated for by an increase in cellulose, but rather by an increase in matrix polysaccharides. In most lignin mutants, the saccharification yield was improved by up to 88% cellulose conversion for the cinnamoyl-coenzyme A reductase1 mutants under pretreatment conditions, whereas the wild-type cellulose conversion only reached 18%. The saccharification models and Pearson correlation matrix revealed that the lignin content was the main factor determining the saccharification yield. However, also lignin composition, matrix polysaccharide content and composition, and, especially, the xylose, galactose, and arabinose contents influenced the saccharification yield. Strikingly, cellulose content did not significantly affect saccharification yield.

Conclusions

Although the lignin content had the main effect on saccharification, also other cell wall factors could be engineered to potentially increase the cell wall processability, such as the galactose content. Our results contribute to a better understanding of the effect of lignin perturbations on plant cell wall composition and its influence on saccharification yield, and provide new potential targets for genetic improvement.

Keywords:
Arabidopsis thaliana; Lignin; Cellulose; Matrix polysaccharides; Secondary cell wall; Saccharification