Downregulation of p‐COUMAROYL ESTER 3‐HYDROXYLASE in rice leads to altered cell wall structures and improves biomass saccharification
p‐Coumaroyl ester 3‐hydroxylase (C3′H) is a key enzyme involved in the biosynthesis of lignin, a phenylpropanoid polymer that is the major constituent of secondary cell walls in vascular plants. Although the crucial role of C3′H in lignification and its manipulation to upgrade lignocellulose have been investigated in eudicots, limited information is available in monocotyledonous grass species, despite their potential as biomass feedstocks. Here we address the pronounced impacts of C3′H deficiency on the structure and properties of grass cell walls. C3′H‐knockdown lines generated via RNA interference (RNAi)‐mediated gene silencing, with about 0.5% of the residual expression levels, reached maturity and set seeds. In contrast, C3′H‐knockout rice mutants generated via CRISPR/Cas9‐mediated mutagenesis were severely dwarfed and sterile. Cell wall analysis of the mature C3′H‐knockdown RNAi lines revealed that their lignins were largely enriched in p‐hydroxyphenyl (H) units while being substantially reduced in the normally dominant guaiacyl (G) and syringyl (S) units. Interestingly, however, the enrichment of H units was limited to within the non‐acylated lignin units, with grass‐specific γ‐p‐coumaroylated lignin units remaining apparently unchanged. Suppression of C3′H also resulted in relative augmentation in tricin residues in lignin as well as a substantial reduction in wall cross‐linking ferulates. Collectively, our data demonstrate that C3′H expression is an important determinant not only of lignin content and composition but also of the degree of cell wall cross‐linking. We also demonstrated that C3′H‐suppressed rice displays enhanced biomass saccharification.
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