New method to improve the molecular structure of cell wall lignin

January 9, 2015

A new method has been developed to improve the structure of lignin (abundant in cell walls) for easier decomposition. The discovery was made during joint research between RIKEN CSRS, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Nagaoka University of Technology, and the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute under the JST Strategic Basic Research Program.

The group focused plant biomass degradation in natural soils and sediments, they isolated Sphingobium sp. SYK-6 bacteria from environmental microbiota and performed a comprehensive analysis on the genes involved with lignin decomposition. They found a number of effective genes that alter the metabolic pathways used in lignin synthesis. One of these effective genes, LigD, was inserted into Arabidopsis and successfully altered a portion of lignin-specific β-O-4 structure without inhibiting the plant’s growth. This discovery is expected to pave the way for improved lignin decomposition during alkaline reaction in biorefinery process.

Further development of this technology could lead to the creation of plants that easily accumulate decomposable lignin and remarkably reduce the amount of energy and chemicals needed, which would greatly decrease the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when producing biomass-based products such as biofuels and bioplastics.


Original article
Plant Biotechnology Journal  doi: 10.1111/pbi.12316
Y. Tsuji, R. Vanholme, Y. Tobimatsu, Y. Ishikawa, C. E. Foster, N. Kamimura, S. Hishiyama, S. Hashimoto, A. Shino, H. Hara, K. Sato-Izawa, P. Oyarce, G. Goeminne, K. Morreel, J. Kikuchi, T. Takano, M. Fukuda, Y. Katayama, W. Boerjan, J. Ralph, E. Masai, S. Kajita,
"Introduction of chemically labile substructures into Arabidopsis lignin through the use of LigD, the Ca-dehydrogenase from Sphingobium sp. strain SYK-6".

Jun Kikuchi
Team Leader
Environmental Metabolic Analysis Research Team