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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Field testing of transgenic aspen from large greenhouse screening identifies unexpected winners

Donev, Evgeniy N. N.; Derba-Maceluch, Marta; Yassin, Zakiya; Gandla, Madhavi Latha; Pramod, Sivan; Heinonen, Emilia; Kumar, Vikash; Scheepers, Gerhard; Vilaplana, Francisco; Johansson, Ulf; Hertzberg, Magnus; Sundberg, Bjoern; Winestrand, Sandra; Hoernberg, Andreas; Alriksson, Bjoern; Joensson, Leif J. J.; Mellerowicz, Ewa J. J.


Trees constitute promising renewable feedstocks for biorefinery using biochemical conversion, but their recalcitrance restricts their attractiveness for the industry. To obtain trees with reduced recalcitrance, large-scale genetic engineering experiments were performed in hybrid aspen blindly targeting genes expressed during wood formation and 32 lines representing seven constructs were selected for characterization in the field. Here we report phenotypes of five-year old trees considering 49 traits related to growth and wood properties. The best performing construct considering growth and glucose yield in saccharification with acid pretreatment had suppressed expression of the gene encoding an uncharacterized 2-oxoglutarate-dependent dioxygenase (2OGD). It showed minor changes in wood chemistry but increased nanoporosity and glucose conversion. Suppressed levels of SUCROSE SYNTHASE, (SuSy), CINNAMATE 4-HYDROXYLASE (C4H) and increased levels of GTPase activating protein for ADP-ribosylation factor ZAC led to significant growth reductions and anatomical abnormalities. However, C4H and SuSy constructs greatly improved glucose yields in saccharification without and with pretreatment, respectively. Traits associated with high glucose yields were different for saccharification with and without pretreatment. While carbohydrates, phenolics and tension wood contents positively impacted the yields without pretreatment and growth, lignin content and S/G ratio were negative factors, the yields with pretreatment positively correlated with S lignin and negatively with carbohydrate contents. The genotypes with high glucose yields had increased nanoporosity and mGlcA/Xyl ratio, and some had shorter polymers extractable with subcritical water compared to wild-type. The pilot-scale industrial-like pretreatment of best-performing 2OGD construct confirmed its superior sugar yields, supporting our strategy.


enzymatic saccharification; field trial; secondary cell wall; SilviScan; subcritical water extraction; transgenic Populus

Published in

Plant Biotechnology Journal
2023, Volume: 21, number: 5, pages: 1005-1021
Publisher: WILEY