Field Evaluation of Transgenic Switchgrass Plants Overexpressing PvMYB4 for Reduced Biomass Recalcitrance

Holly L. Baxter, Charleson R. Poovaiah, Kelsey L. Yee, Mitra Mazarei, Miguel Rodriguez, Olivia A. Thompson, Hui Shen, Geoffrey B. Turner, Stephen R. Decker, Robert W. Sykes, Fang Chen, Mark F. Davis, Jonathan R. Mielenz, Brian H. Davison, Richard A. Dixon, C. Neal Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus Citations

Abstract

High biomass yields and minimal agronomic input requirements have made switchgrass, Panicum virgatum L., a leading candidate lignocellulosic bioenergy crop. Large-scale lignocellulosic biofuel production from such crops is limited by the difficulty to deconstruct cell walls into fermentable sugars: the recalcitrance problem. Our goal in this study was to assess the field performance of switchgrass plants overexpressing the switchgrass MYB4 (PvMYB4) transcription factor gene. PvMYB4 transgenic switchgrass can have great lignin reduction, which commensurately increases sugar release and biofuel production. Our results over two growing seasons showed that one transgenic event (out of eight) had important gains in both biofuel (32 % more) and biomass (63 % more) at the end of the second growing season relative to non-transgenic controls. These gains represent a doubling of biofuel production per hectare, which is the highest gain reported from any field-grown modified feedstock. In contrast to this transgenic event, which had relatively low ectopic overexpression of the transgene, five of the eight transgenic events planted did not survive the first field winter. The dead plants were all high-overexpressing events that performed well in the earlier greenhouse studies. Disease susceptibility was not compromised in any transgenic events over the field experiments. These results demonstrate the power of modifying the expression of an endogenous transcription factor to improve biofuel and biomass simultaneously, and also highlight the importance of field studies for “sorting” transgenic events. Further research is needed to develop strategies for fine-tuning temporal-spatial transgene expression in feedstocks to optimize desired phenotypes.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)910-921
Number of pages12
JournalBioenergy Research
Volume8
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Springer Science+Business Media New York.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-64026

Keywords

  • Field trial
  • Lignocellulosic biofuel
  • MYB4
  • Switchgrass

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