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Tailor-made trees: engineering lignin for ease of processing and tomorrow’s bioeconomy

Mahon, Elizabeth L, Mansfield, Shawn D
Current opinion in biotechnology 2019 v.56 pp. 147-155
bioeconomics, biomass production, cell walls, cellulosic fibers, engineering, feedstocks, genetic engineering, lignin, lignin content, lignocellulose, processing technology, sugars, trees, ultrastructure
Lignocellulosic biomass represents an abundant source of cellulosic fibres and fermentable sugars. However, lignin, a polyphenolic constituent of secondary-thickened plant cell walls significantly contributes to biomass recalcitrance during industrial processing. Efforts to reduce plant total lignin content through genetic engineering have improved processing efficiency, but often incur an agronomic penalty. Alternatively, modifications that alter the composition of lignin and/or its interaction with other cell wall polymers display improved processing efficiency without compromising biomass yield. We propose that future efforts to improve woody feedstocks should focus on altering lignin composition and cell wall ultrastructure. Here, we describe potential future modifications to lignin and/or other cell wall characteristics that may serve as strategic targets in the production of trees that are tailor-made for specific pretreatments and end-product applications.