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Keywords:

  • 5-hydroxy-guaiacyl lignin;
  • male sterility;
  • saccharification;
  • biofuel;
  • sporopollenin;
  • cell wall

Summary

The presence of the phenylpropanoid polymer lignin in plant cell walls impedes breakdown of polysaccharides to the fermentable sugars that are used in biofuel production. Genetically modified plants with altered lignin properties hold great promise to improve biomass degradability. Here, we describe the generation of a new type of lignin enriched in 5-hydroxy-guaiacyl units by over-expressing ferulate 5-hydroxylase in a line of Arabidopsis lacking caffeic acid O-methyltransferase. The lignin modification strategy had a profound impact on plant growth and development and cell-wall properties, and resulted in male sterility due to complete disruption of formation of the pollen wall. The modified plants showed significantly improved cell-wall enzymatic saccharification efficiency without a reduction in post-harvest biomass yield despite the alterations in the overall growth morphology. This study demonstrated the plasticity of lignin polymerization in terms of incorporation of unusual monomers that chemically resemble conventional monomers, and also revealed the link between the biosynthetic pathways of lignin and the pollen wall-forming sporopollenin.