Characterisation of lignin and cellulose formation genes in biomass and energy grasses (Poaceae)
Research Field:Life Sciences
Lead PI:Dr. Trevor Hodkinson
Abstract:Grasses have received considerable attention as a source of woody biomass for bioenergy production to provide alternatives to fossil fuels. Potential bioenergy grasses include Miscanthus, maize, switchgrass and several woody bamboos. Most grasses are herbaceous but some subfamilies have evolved woodiness. Bamboos (subfamily Bambusoideae) have evolved a woody character via enhancement of the lignocellulosic component of vascular tissue, especially vessels. Reeds (e.g. Arundo, Phragmites, subfamily Arundinoideae) and Panicoideae (e.g. Saccharum, Miscanthus, Panicum) have also evolved this trait. It is not known if they have achieved this via alternative biosynthetic paths/genes. Grass cell walls differ from other angiosperms in their major structural polysaccharides, pectins, proteins and phenolic compounds. Recent advances in genomics have revealed cellulose synthase‐like (Csl) gene families (unique to grasses) and the CslF gene (unique to Poales, the order to which the grass family belongs). An understanding of how these gene families and lignocellulosic biosynthesis evolved in grasses is key to improving the processing quality of grasses for bioenergy and the manipulation of the genes in future biotechnology and plant breeding. Objectives and methodology: 1) Investigate, via a candidate gene approach, the evolution of genes known to be of importance for woodiness in grasses (e.g. cellulose synthase genes, Cesl, a highly expressed gene family in developing vascular fibres, including CslF, and monolignol biosynthesis genes. 2) Investigate the effects of woodiness on grass evolution (e.g. investigate, using diversification statistics and molecular dating, whether woodiness was a significant key innovation for speciation in the groups that have evolved it).