Identifying transcription factors that reduce wood recalcitrance and improve enzymatic degradation of xylem cell wall in Populus
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-78781-6
Developing an efficient deconstruction step of woody biomass for biorefinery has been drawing considerable attention since its xylem cell walls display highly recalcitrance nature. Here, we explored transcriptional factors (TFs) that reduce wood recalcitrance and improve saccharification efficiency in Populus species. First, 33 TF genes up-regulated during poplar wood formation were selected as potential regulators of xylem cell wall structure. The transgenic hybrid aspens (Populus tremula × Populus tremuloides) overexpressing each selected TF gene were screened for in vitro enzymatic saccharification. Of these, four transgenic seedlings overexpressing previously uncharacterized TF genes increased total glucan hydrolysis on average compared to control. The best performing lines overexpressing Pt × tERF123 and Pt × tZHD14 were further grown to form mature xylem in the greenhouse. Notably, the xylem cell walls exhibited significantly increased total xylan hydrolysis as well as initial hydrolysis rates of glucan. The increased saccharification of Pt × tERF123-overexpressing lines could reflect the improved balance of cell wall components, i.e., high cellulose and low xylan and lignin content, which could be caused by upregulation of cellulose synthase genes upon the expression of Pt × tERF123. Overall, we successfully identified Pt × tERF123 and Pt × tZHD14 as effective targets for reducing cell wall recalcitrance and improving the enzymatic degradation of woody plant biomass.