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Expression of Dehydroshikimate Dehydratase in Sorghum Improves Biomass Yield, Accumulation of Protocatechuate, and Biorefinery Economics


Engineering bioenergy crops to accumulate value-added coproducts in planta is an attractive approach to increasing the value of lignocellulosic biomass and enabling a sustainable bioeconomy. In this study, we engineered sorghum with a bacterial gene encoding a dehydroshikimate dehydratase (qsuB) to convert the endogenous pool of 3-dehydroshikimate into the valuable compound protocatechuate (DHBA). We find that, when grown under field conditions, transgenic sorghum lines can accumulate up to 0.3% DHBA in stover on a dry weight (DW) basis without showing any difference in cell wall composition. An unexpected finding was an increase in yield for all qsuB-expressing lines. The grain yield and total biomass yield were 71 and 29% higher in the highest yielding line, respectively. On average, the total biomass yield of the engineered lines was 22.3 t/ha (DW). Moreover, we conducted a techno-economic analysis to investigate the economic impact of coproducing DHBA along with bioethanol in an integrated cellulosic biorefinery. Using engineered biomass sorghum with 0.3 DW% DHBA accumulated in planta as the feedstock, the economics of the integrated biorefineries has the potential to be improved. Our data demonstrate an engineering strategy to overproduce DHBA in bioenergy crops to facilitate sustainable manufacturing of biofuels and bioproducts.

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