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Lignin modification improves fermentable sugar yields for biofuel production


Recalcitrance to saccharification is a major limitation for conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to ethanol. In stems of transgenic alfalfa lines independently downregulated in each of six lignin biosynthetic enzymes, recalcitrance to both acid pretreatment and enzymatic digestion is directly proportional to lignin content. Some transgenics yield nearly twice as much sugar from cell walls as wild-type plants. Lignin modification could bypass the need for acid pretreatment and thereby facilitate bioprocess consolidation.

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Figure 1: Sugar release from alfalfa biomass by chemical and enzymatic saccharification.
Figure 2: Relationships between lignin levels and properties and saccharification of alfalfa biomass.


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We thank Jon Biermacher for assistance with statistical analysis, and Kelly Craven and Zeng-Yu Wang for critical reading of the manuscript. This work was supported by the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, United States Department of Energy grant DE-FG02-06ER64303 (R.A.D) and Forage Genetics International.

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Authors and Affiliations



F.C. designed and conducted experiments and assisted with writing of the manuscript; R.A.D. designed experiments, analyzed results and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Fang Chen or Richard A Dixon.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Fig. 1

The currently accepted pathway to the H, G and S monolignol building blocks of lignin, and lignin deposition patterns in alfalfa stems (PDF 123 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 2

Composition of sugars released from alfalfa biomass by acid pre-treatment and enzymatic digestion (PDF 34 kb)

Supplementary Table 1

Lignin content and composition of alfalfa stem biomass analyzed in the present work (PDF 23 kb)

Supplementary Table 2

Pretreatment parameters for control and lignin-modified alfalfa plants (PDF 14 kb)

Supplementary Table 3

Regression equations for sugar released by enzymatic hydrolysis using lignin content, thioacidolysis monomer yield and relative monomer ratios in untreated and pretreated alfalfa stems (PDF 14 kb)

Supplementary Methods (PDF 26 kb)

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Chen, F., Dixon, R. Lignin modification improves fermentable sugar yields for biofuel production. Nat Biotechnol 25, 759–761 (2007).

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