Designed for deconstruction – poplar trees altered in cell wall lignification improve the efficacy of bioethanol production


Author for correspondence:
Shawn D. Mansfield
Tel: +1 604-822-0196


  • There is a pressing global need to reduce the increasing societal reliance on petroleum and to develop a bio-based economy. At the forefront is the need to establish a sustainable, renewable, alternative energy sector. This includes liquid transportation fuel derived from lignocellulosic plant materials. However, one of the current limiting factors restricting the effective and efficient conversion of lignocellulosic residues is the recalcitrance of the substrate to enzymatic conversion.
  • In an attempt to assess the impact of cell wall lignin on recalcitrance, we subjected poplar trees engineered with altered lignin content and composition to two potential industrial pretreatment regimes, and evaluated the overall efficacy of the bioconversion to ethanol process.
  • It was apparent that total lignin content has a greater impact than monomer ratio (syringyl : guaiacyl) on both pretreatments. More importantly, low lignin plants showed as much as a 15% improvement in the efficiency of conversion, with near complete hydrolysis of the cellulosic polymer.
  • Using genomic tools to breed or select for modifications in key cell wall chemical and/or ultrastructural traits can have a profound effect on bioenergy processing. These techniques may therefore offer means to overcome the current obstacles that underpin the recalcitrance of lignocellulosic substrates to bioconversion.