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Biosynthesis and function of glucuronic acid substitution patterns on softwood xylan

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Lyczakowski, Jan Jakub  ORCID logo


Wood from coniferous trees is an important source of renewable biomass. It can contribute to provision of carbon neutral energy, biomaterials and housing for a growing population. Softwood is mainly composed of cellulose, galactoglucomannan, xylan and lignin. This thesis focuses on the biosynthesis and function of Glucuronic acid (GlcA) decorations on softwood xylan. Results demonstrate that this GUX (GlucUronic acid substitution of Xylan)-dependent xylan branching is critical for the maintenance of biomass recalcitrance in a model vascular plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Experiments employing in vitro and in planta activity assays show that conifer transcriptomes encode at least two distinct GUX enzymes which are active glucuronosyltransferases. Interestingly, these enzymes have different specific activities, with one adding evenly spaced GlcA branches and the other one being able to add consecutive decorations. It is possible that these different patterns of xylan branching may have an impact on ability of xylan to interact with cellulose fibrils. To investigate the role for xylan binding to cellulose, Arabidopsis mutant plants in which this interaction is lost were evaluated alongside transgenic mutant lines in which the interaction may be restored. Results of this analysis indicate that the presence of cellulose-bound xylan might have an influence on plant vasculature integrity and thus it may have an effect on plant growth and biomass properties. Moreover, further results indicate that some xylan cellulose interaction is likely to occur in cell wall macrofibrils which can be detected in softwood. Taken together, this thesis provides insights into the process of conifer xylan glucuronidation and the possible role these branches may be playing in the maintenance of softwood recalcitrance and mechanical properties. In addition to identifying potential mutagenesis targets for improving softwood processing, this work is a proof of concept for the use of GUX enzymes for in vivo and in vitro biosynthesis of novel xylan structures with potential industrial application.





Dupree, Paul


Wood, Softwood, Conifers, Plant cell walls, Xylan, Cellulose, Biomass, Biofuels, Bioenergy, Plants


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnerships