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Keywords:

  • digestibility;
  • forage grass;
  • lignin biosynthesis;
  • tall fescue;
  • transgenic plant

Summary

Lignification of cell walls during plant development has been identified as the major factor limiting forage digestibility and concomitantly animal productivity. cDNA sequences encoding a key lignin biosynthetic enzyme, cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase (CAD), were cloned from the widely grown monocotyledonous forage species tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.). Recombinant tall fescue CAD expressed in E. coli exhibited the highest Vmax/Km values when coniferaldehyde and sinapaldehyde were used as substrates. Transgenic tall fescue plants carrying either sense or antisense CAD gene constructs were obtained by microprojectile bombardment of single genotype-derived embryogenic suspension cells. Severely reduced levels of mRNA transcripts and significantly reduced CAD enzymatic activities were found in two transgenic plants carrying sense and antisense CAD transgenes, respectively. These CAD down-regulated transgenic lines had significantly decreased lignin content and altered ratios of syringyl (S) to guaiacyl (G), G to p-hydroxyphenyl (H) and S to H units. No significant changes in cellulose, hemicellulose, neutral sugar composition, p-coumaric acid and ferulic acid levels were observed in the transgenic plants. Increases of in vitro dry matter digestibility of 7.2–9.5% were achieved in the CAD down-regulated lines, thus providing a novel germplasm to be used for the development of grass cultivars with improved forage quality.