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Absence of branches from xylan in Arabidopsis gux mutants reveals potential for simplification of lignocellulosic biomass

Mortimer, Jennifer C., Miles, Godfrey P., Brown, David M., Zhang, Zhinong, Segura, Marcelo P., Weimar, Thilo, Yu, Xiaolan, Seffen, Keith A., Stephens, Elaine, Turner, Simon R., Dupree, Paul
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2010 v.107 no.40 pp. 17409-17414
Arabidopsis, arabinose, biofuels, biomass, branches, cell walls, feedstocks, fuel production, glucuronic acid, glycosyltransferases, grasses, hardwood, hydrolysis, lignocellulose, mutants, stem cells, xylan, xylem vessels
As one of the most abundant polysaccharides on Earth, xylan will provide more than a third of the sugars for lignocellulosic biofuel production when using grass or hardwood feedstocks. Xylan is characterized by a linear β(1,4)-linked backbone of xylosyl residues substituted by glucuronic acid, 4-O-methylglucuronic acid or arabinose, depending on plant species and cell types. The biological role of these decorations is unclear, but they have a major influence on the properties of the polysaccharide. Despite the recent isolation of several mutants with reduced backbone, the mechanisms of xylan synthesis and substitution are unclear. We identified two Golgi-localized putative glycosyltransferases, GlucUronic acid substitution of Xylan (GUX)-1 and GUX2 that are required for the addition of both glucuronic acid and 4-O-methylglucuronic acid branches to xylan in Arabidopsis stem cell walls. The gux1 gux2 double mutants show loss of xylan glucuronyltransferase activity and lack almost all detectable xylan substitution. Unexpectedly, they show no change in xylan backbone quantity, indicating that backbone synthesis and substitution can be uncoupled. Although the stems are weakened, the xylem vessels are not collapsed, and the plants grow to normal size. The xylan in these plants shows improved extractability from the cell wall, is composed of a single monosaccharide, and requires fewer enzymes for complete hydrolysis. These findings have implications for our understanding of the synthesis and function of xylan in plants. The results also demonstrate the potential for manipulating and simplifying the structure of xylan to improve the properties of lignocellulose for bioenergy and other uses.