Gene regulatory networks for lignin biosynthesis in switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).
ABSTRACT: Cell wall recalcitrance is the major challenge to improving saccharification efficiency in converting lignocellulose into biofuels. However, information regarding the transcriptional regulation of secondary cell wall biogenesis remains poor in switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), which has been selected as a biofuel crop in the United States. In this study, we present a combination of computational and experimental approaches to develop gene regulatory networks for lignin formation in switchgrass. To screen transcription factors (TFs) involved in lignin biosynthesis, we developed a modified method to perform co-expression network analysis using 14 lignin biosynthesis genes as bait (target) genes. The switchgrass lignin co-expression network was further extended by adding 14 TFs identified in this study, and seven TFs identified in previous studies, as bait genes. Six TFs (PvMYB58/63, PvMYB42/85, PvMYB4, PvWRKY12, PvSND2 and PvSWN2) were targeted to generate overexpressing and/or down-regulated transgenic switchgrass lines. The alteration of lignin content, cell wall composition and/or plant growth in the transgenic plants supported the role of the TFs in controlling secondary wall formation. RNA-seq analysis of four of the transgenic switchgrass lines revealed downstream target genes of the secondary wall-related TFs and crosstalk with other biological pathways. In vitro transactivation assays further confirmed the regulation of specific lignin pathway genes by four of the TFs. Our meta-analysis provides a hierarchical network of TFs and their potential target genes for future manipulation of secondary cell wall formation for lignin modification in switchgrass.
Project description:Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a leading lignocellulosic bioenergy feedstock. Cellulose is a major component of the plant cell walls and the primary substrate for saccharification. Accessibility of cellulose to enzymatic breakdown into fermentable sugars is limited by the presence of lignin in the plant cell wall. In this study, putatively novel switchgrass secondary cell wall cellulose synthase PvCesA4 and primary cell wall PvCesA6 genes were identified and their functional role in cellulose synthesis and cell wall composition was examined by overexpression and knockdown of the individual genes in switchgrass. The endogenous expression of PvCesA4 and PvCesA6 genes varied among including roots, leaves, stem, and reproductive tissues. Increasing or decreasing PvCesA4 and PvCesA6 expression to extreme levels in the transgenic lines resulted in decreased biomass production. PvCesA6-overexpressing lines had reduced lignin content and syringyl/guaiacyl lignin monomer ratio accompanied by increased sugar release efficiency, suggesting an impact of PvCesA6 expression levels on lignin biosynthesis. Cellulose content and cellulose crystallinity were decreased, while xylan content was increased in PvCesA4 and PvCesA6 overexpression or knockdown lines. The increase in xylan content suggests that the amount of non-cellulosic cell wall polysaccharide was modified in these plants. Taken together, the results show that the manipulation of the cellulose synthase genes alters the cell wall composition and availability of cellulose as a bioprocessing substrate.
Project description:High biomass production and wide adaptation has made switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) an important candidate lignocellulosic bioenergy crop. One major limitation of this and other lignocellulosic feedstocks is the recalcitrance of complex carbohydrates to hydrolysis for conversion to biofuels. Lignin is the major contributor to recalcitrance as it limits the accessibility of cell wall carbohydrates to enzymatic breakdown into fermentable sugars. Therefore, genetic manipulation of the lignin biosynthesis pathway is one strategy to reduce recalcitrance. Here, we identified a switchgrass Knotted1 transcription factor, PvKN1, with the aim of genetically engineering switchgrass for reduced biomass recalcitrance for biofuel production. Gene expression of the endogenous PvKN1 gene was observed to be highest in young inflorescences and stems. Ectopic overexpression of PvKN1 in switchgrass altered growth, especially in early developmental stages. Transgenic lines had reduced expression of most lignin biosynthetic genes accompanied by a reduction in lignin content suggesting the involvement of PvKN1 in the broad regulation of the lignin biosynthesis pathway. Moreover, the reduced expression of the Gibberellin 20-oxidase (GA20ox) gene in tandem with the increased expression of Gibberellin 2-oxidase (GA2ox) genes in transgenic PvKN1 lines suggest that PvKN1 may exert regulatory effects via modulation of GA signaling. Furthermore, overexpression of PvKN1 altered the expression of cellulose and hemicellulose biosynthetic genes and increased sugar release efficiency in transgenic lines. Our results demonstrated that switchgrass PvKN1 is a putative ortholog of maize KN1 that is linked to plant lignification and cell wall and development traits as a major regulatory gene. Therefore, targeted overexpression of PvKN1 in bioenergy feedstocks may provide one feasible strategy for reducing biomass recalcitrance and simultaneously improving plant growth characteristics.
Project description:Background: Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a C4 perennial prairie grass and a dedicated feedstock for lignocellulosic biofuels. Saccharification and biofuel yields are inhibited by the plant cell wall's natural recalcitrance against enzymatic degradation. Plant hemicellulose polysaccharides such as arabinoxylans structurally support and cross-link other cell wall polymers. Grasses predominately have Type II cell walls that are abundant in arabinoxylan, which comprise nearly 25% of aboveground biomass. A primary component of arabinoxylan synthesis is uridine diphosphate (UDP) linked to arabinofuranose (Araf). A family of UDP-arabinopyranose mutase (UAM)/reversible glycosylated polypeptides catalyze the interconversion between UDP-arabinopyranose (UDP-Arap) and UDP-Araf. Results: The expression of a switchgrass arabinoxylan biosynthesis pathway gene, PvUAM1, was decreased via RNAi to investigate its role in cell wall recalcitrance in the feedstock. PvUAM1 encodes a switchgrass homolog of UDP-arabinose mutase, which converts UDP-Arap to UDP-Araf. Southern blot analysis revealed each transgenic line contained between one to at least seven T-DNA insertions, resulting in some cases, a 95% reduction of native PvUAM1 transcript in stem internodes. Transgenic plants had increased pigmentation in vascular tissues at nodes, but were otherwise similar in morphology to the non-transgenic control. Cell wall-associated arabinose was decreased in leaves and stems by over 50%, but there was an increase in cellulose. In addition, there was a commensurate change in arabinose side chain extension. Cell wall lignin composition was altered with a concurrent increase in lignin content and transcript abundance of lignin biosynthetic genes in mature tillers. Enzymatic saccharification efficiency was unchanged in the transgenic plants relative to the control. Conclusion: Plants with attenuated PvUAM1 transcript had increased cellulose and lignin in cell walls. A decrease in cell wall-associated arabinose was expected, which was likely caused by fewer Araf residues in the arabinoxylan. The decrease in arabinoxylan may cause a compensation response to maintain cell wall integrity by increasing cellulose and lignin biosynthesis. In cases in which increased lignin is desired, e.g., feedstocks for carbon fiber production, downregulated UAM1 coupled with altered expression of other arabinoxylan biosynthesis genes might result in even higher production of lignin in biomass.
Project description:Genetic engineering of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) for reduced cell wall recalcitrance and improved biofuel production has been a long pursued goal. Up to now, constitutive promoters have been used to direct the expression of cell wall biosynthesis genes toward attaining that goal. While generally sufficient to gauge a transgene's effects in the heterologous host, constitutive overexpression often leads to undesirable plant phenotypic effects. Green tissue-specific promoters from switchgrass are potentially valuable to directly alter cell wall traits exclusively in harvestable aboveground biomass while not changing root phenotypes.We identified and functionally characterized three switchgrass green tissue-specific promoters and assessed marker gene expression patterns and intensity in stably transformed rice (Oryza sativa L.), and then used them to direct the expression of the switchgrass MYB4 (PvMYB4) transcription factor gene in transgenic switchgrass to endow reduced recalcitrance in aboveground biomass. These promoters correspond to photosynthesis-related light-harvesting complex II chlorophyll-a/b binding gene (PvLhcb), phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase (PvPEPC), and the photosystem II 10 kDa R subunit (PvPsbR). Real-time RT-PCR analysis detected their strong expression in the aboveground tissues including leaf blades, leaf sheaths, internodes, inflorescences, and nodes of switchgrass, which was tightly up-regulated by light. Stable transgenic rice expressing the GUS reporter under the control of each promoter (756-2005 bp in length) further confirmed their strong expression patterns in leaves and stems. With the exception of the serial promoter deletions of PvLhcb, all GUS marker patterns under the control of each 5'-end serial promoter deletion were not different from that conveyed by their respective promoters. All of the shortest promoter fragments (199-275 bp in length) conveyed strong green tissue-specific GUS expression in transgenic rice. PvMYB4 is a master repressor of lignin biosynthesis. The green tissue-specific expression of PvMYB4 via each promoter in transgenic switchgrass led to significant gains in saccharification efficiency, decreased lignin, and decreased S/G lignin ratios. In contrast to constitutive overexpression of PvMYB4, which negatively impacts switchgrass root growth, plant growth was not compromised in green tissue-expressed PvMYB4 switchgrass plants in the current study.Each of the newly described green tissue-specific promoters from switchgrass has utility to change cell wall biosynthesis exclusively in aboveground harvestable biomass without altering root systems. The truncated green tissue promoters are very short and should be useful for targeted expression in a number of monocots to improve shoot traits while restricting gene expression from roots. Green tissue-specific expression of PvMYB4 is an effective strategy for improvement of transgenic feedstocks.
Project description:Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a lignocellulosic perennial grass with great potential in bioenergy field. Lignocellulosic bioenergy crops are mostly resistant to cell wall deconstruction, and therefore yield suboptimal levels of biofuel. The one-carbon pathway (also known as C1 metabolism) is critical for polymer methylation, including that of lignin and hemicelluloses in cell walls. Folylpolyglutamate synthetase (FPGS) catalyzes a biochemical reaction that leads to the formation of folylpolyglutamate, an important cofactor for many enzymes in the C1 pathway. In this study, the putatively novel switchgrass PvFPGS1 gene was identified and its functional role in cell wall composition and biofuel production was examined by RNAi knockdown analysis. The PvFPGS1-downregulated plants were analyzed in the field over three growing seasons. Transgenic plants with the highest reduction in PvFPGS1 expression grew slower and produced lower end-of-season biomass. Transgenic plants with low-to-moderate reduction in PvFPGS1 transcript levels produced equivalent biomass as controls. There were no significant differences observed for lignin content and syringyl/guaiacyl lignin monomer ratio in the low-to-moderately reduced PvFPGS1 transgenic lines compared with the controls. Similarly, sugar release efficiency was also not significantly different in these transgenic lines compared with the control lines. However, transgenic plants produced up to 18% more ethanol while maintaining congruent growth and biomass as non-transgenic controls. Severity of rust disease among transgenic and control lines were not different during the time course of the field experiments. Altogether, the unchanged lignin content and composition in the low-to-moderate PvFPGS1-downregulated lines may suggest that partial downregulation of PvFPGS1 expression did not impact lignin biosynthesis in switchgrass. In conclusion, the manipulation of PvFPGS1 expression in bioenergy crops may be useful to increase biofuel potential with no growth penalty or increased susceptibility to rust in feedstock.
Project description:The mission of the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) was to enable efficient lignocellulosic-based biofuel production. One BESC goal was to decrease poplar and switchgrass biomass recalcitrance to biofuel conversion while not affecting plant growth. A transformation pipeline (TP), to express transgenes or transgene fragments (constructs) in these feedstocks with the goal of understanding and decreasing recalcitrance, was considered essential for this goal. Centralized data storage for access by BESC members and later the public also was essential.A BESC committee was established to codify procedures to evaluate and accept genes into the TP. A laboratory information management system (LIMS) was organized to catalog constructs, plant lines and results from their analyses. One hundred twenty-eight constructs were accepted into the TP for expression in switchgrass in the first 5 years of BESC. Here we provide information on 53 of these constructs and the BESC TP process. Eleven of the constructs could not be cloned into an expression vector for transformation. Of the remaining constructs, 22 modified expression of the gene target. Transgenic lines representing some constructs displayed decreased recalcitrance in the field and publications describing these results are tabulated here. Transcript levels of target genes and detailed wall analyses from transgenic lines expressing six additional tabulated constructs aimed toward modifying expression of genes associated with wall structure (xyloglucan and lignin components) are provided. Altered expression of xyloglucan endotransglucosylase/hydrolases did not modify lignin content in transgenic plants. Simultaneous silencing of two hydroxycinnamoyl CoA:shikimate hydroxycinnamoyl transferases was necessary to decrease G and S lignin monomer and total lignin contents, but this reduced plant growth.A TP to produce plants with decreased recalcitrance and a LIMS for data compilation from these plants were created. While many genes accepted into the TP resulted in transgenic switchgrass without modified lignin or biomass content, a group of genes with potential to improve lignocellulosic biofuel yields was identified. Results from transgenic lines targeting xyloglucan and lignin structure provide examples of the types of information available on switchgrass lines produced within BESC. This report supplies useful information when developing coordinated, large-scale, multi-institutional reverse genetic pipelines to improve crop traits.
Project description:Switchgrass is a promising biofuel feedstock due to its high biomass production and low agronomic input requirements. Because the bulk of switchgrass biomass used for biofuel production is lignocellulosic secondary walls, studies on secondary wall biosynthesis and its transcriptional regulation are imperative for designing strategies for genetic improvement of biomass production in switchgrass. Here, we report the identification and functional characterization of a group of switchgrass transcription factors, including several NACs (PvSWNs) and a MYB (PvMYB46A), for their involvement in regulating secondary wall biosynthesis. PvSWNs and PvMYB46A were found to be highly expressed in stems and their expression was closely associated with sclerenchyma cells. Overexpression of PvSWNs and PvMYB46A in Arabidopsis was shown to result in activation of the biosynthetic genes for cellulose, xylan and lignin and ectopic deposition of secondary walls in normally parenchymatous cells. Transactivation and complementation studies demonstrated that PvSWNs were able to activate the SNBE-driven GUS reporter gene and effectively rescue the secondary wall defects in the Arabidopsis snd1 nst1 double mutant, indicating that they are functional orthologs of Arabidopsis SWNs. Furthermore, we showed that PvMYB46A could activate the SMRE-driven GUS reporter gene and complement the Arabidopsis myb46 myb83 double mutant, suggesting that it is a functional ortholog of Arabidopsis MYB46/MYB83. Together, these results indicate that PvSWNs and PvMYB46A are transcriptional switches involved in regulating secondary wall biosynthesis, which provides molecular tools for genetic manipulation of biomass production in switchgrass.
Project description:Lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most promising renewable and clean energy resources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. However, the resistance to accessibility of sugars embedded in plant cell walls (so-called recalcitrance) is a major barrier to economically viable cellulosic ethanol production. A recent report from the US National Academy of Sciences indicated that, "absent technological breakthroughs", it was unlikely that the US would meet the congressionally mandated renewable fuel standard of 35 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent biofuels plus 1 billion gallons of biodiesel by 2022. We here describe the properties of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) biomass that has been genetically engineered to increase the cellulosic ethanol yield by more than 2-fold.We have increased the cellulosic ethanol yield from switchgrass by 2.6-fold through overexpression of the transcription factor PvMYB4. This strategy reduces carbon deposition into lignin and phenolic fermentation inhibitors while maintaining the availability of potentially fermentable soluble sugars and pectic polysaccharides. Detailed biomass characterization analyses revealed that the levels and nature of phenolic acids embedded in the cell-wall, the lignin content and polymer size, lignin internal linkage levels, linkages between lignin and xylans/pectins, and levels of wall-bound fucose are all altered in PvMYB4-OX lines. Genetically engineered PvMYB4-OX switchgrass therefore provides a novel system for further understanding cell wall recalcitrance.Our results have demonstrated that overexpression of PvMYB4, a general transcriptional repressor of the phenylpropanoid/lignin biosynthesis pathway, can lead to very high yield ethanol production through dramatic reduction of recalcitrance. MYB4-OX switchgrass is an excellent model system for understanding recalcitrance, and provides new germplasm for developing switchgrass cultivars as biomass feedstocks for biofuel production.
Project description:Ferulate 5-hydroxylase (F5H) catalyses the hydroxylation of coniferyl alcohol and coniferaldehyde for the biosynthesis of syringyl (S) lignin in angiosperms. However, the coordinated effects of F5H with caffeic acid O-methyltransferase (COMT) on the metabolic flux towards S units are largely unknown. We concomitantly regulated F5H expression in COMT-down-regulated transgenic switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) lines and studied the coordination of F5H and COMT in lignin biosynthesis. Down-regulation of F5H in COMT-RNAi transgenic switchgrass plants further impeded S lignin biosynthesis and, consequently, increased guaiacyl (G) units and reduced 5-OH G units. Conversely, overexpression of F5H in COMT-RNAi transgenic plants reduced G units and increased 5-OH units, whereas the deficiency of S lignin biosynthesis was partially compensated or fully restored, depending on the extent of COMT down-regulation in switchgrass. Moreover, simultaneous regulation of F5H and COMT expression had different effects on cell wall digestibility of switchgrass without biomass loss. Our results indicate that up-regulation and down-regulation of F5H expression, respectively, have antagonistic and synergistic effects on the reduction in S lignin resulting from COMT suppression. The coordinated effects between lignin genes should be taken into account in future studies aimed at cell wall bioengineering.
Project description:Background:Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a model biofuel plant because of its high biomass, cellulose-richness, easy degradation to ethanol, and the availability of extensive genomic information. However, a little is currently known about the molecular responses of switchgrass plants to dehydration stress, especially multiple dehydration stresses. Results:Studies on the transcriptional profiles of 35-day-old tissue culture plants revealed 741 dehydration memory genes. Gene Ontology and pathway analysis showed that these genes were enriched in phenylpropanoid biosynthesis, starch and sucrose metabolism, and plant hormone signal transduction. Further analysis of specific pathways combined with physiological data suggested that switchgrass improved its dehydration resistance by changing various aspects of its responses to secondary dehydration stress (D2), including the regulation of abscisic acid (ABA) and jasmonic acid (JA) biosynthesis and signal transduction, the biosynthesis of osmolytes (l-proline, stachyose and trehalose), energy metabolism (i.e., metabolic process relating to photosynthetic systems, glycolysis, and the TCA cycle), and lignin biosynthesis. The transcriptional data and chemical substance assays showed that ABA was significantly accumulated during both primary (D1) and secondary (D2) dehydration stresses, whereas JA accumulated during D1 but became significantly less abundant during D2. This suggests the existence of a complicated signaling network of plant hormones in response to repeated dehydration stresses. A homology analysis focusing on switchgrass, maize, and Arabidopsis revealed the conservation and species-specific distribution of dehydration memory genes. Conclusions:The molecular responses of switchgrass plants to successive dehydration stresses have been systematically characterized, revealing a previously unknown transcriptional memory behavior. These results provide new insights into the mechanisms of dehydration stress responses in plants. The genes and pathways identified in this study will be useful for the genetic improvement of switchgrass and other crops.