• cell wall;
  • lignin;
  • hydroxycinnamoyl-CoA hydratase-lyase;
  • saccharification;
  • polymerization degree;
  • bioenergy


Lignocellulosic biomass is utilized as a renewable feedstock in various agro-industrial activities. Lignin is an aromatic, hydrophobic and mildly branched polymer integrally associated with polysaccharides within the biomass, which negatively affects their extraction and hydrolysis during industrial processing. Engineering the monomer composition of lignins offers an attractive option towards new lignins with reduced recalcitrance. The presented work describes a new strategy developed in Arabidopsis for the overproduction of rare lignin monomers to reduce lignin polymerization degree (DP). Biosynthesis of these ‘DP reducers’ is achieved by expressing a bacterial hydroxycinnamoyl-CoA hydratase-lyase (HCHL) in lignifying tissues of Arabidopsis inflorescence stems. HCHL cleaves the propanoid side-chain of hydroxycinnamoyl-CoA lignin precursors to produce the corresponding hydroxybenzaldehydes so that plant stems expressing HCHL accumulate in their cell wall higher amounts of hydroxybenzaldehyde and hydroxybenzoate derivatives. Engineered plants with intermediate HCHL activity levels show no reduction in total lignin, sugar content or biomass yield compared with wild-type plants. However, cell wall characterization of extract-free stems by thioacidolysis and by 2D-NMR revealed an increased amount of unusual C6C1 lignin monomers most likely linked with lignin as end-groups. Moreover the analysis of lignin isolated from these plants using size-exclusion chromatography revealed a reduced molecular weight. Furthermore, these engineered lines show saccharification improvement of pretreated stem cell walls. Therefore, we conclude that enhancing the biosynthesis and incorporation of C6C1 monomers (‘DP reducers’) into lignin polymers represents a promising strategy to reduce lignin DP and to decrease cell wall recalcitrance to enzymatic hydrolysis.