Increasing cellulosic biomass in sugarcane

Ndimande, Sandile (2014-04)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Increased demand of petroleum, declining fossil fuel reserves, geopolitical instability and the environmentally detrimental effects of fossil fuels have stimulated research to search for alternative sources of energy such as plant derived biofuels. The main feedstocks for production of first generation biofuels (bioethanol) are currently sucrose and starch, produced by crops such as sugarcane, sugarbeet, maize, and cassava. The use of food crop carbohydrates to produce biofuels is viewed as competing for limited agronomic resources and jeopardizing food security. Plants are also capable of storing sugars in their cell walls in the form of polysaccharides such as cellulose, hemicelluloses and pectin, however those are usually cross-linked with lignin, making their fermentation problematic, and are consequently referred to as lignocellulosics. Current technologies are not sufficient to degrade these cell wall sugars without large energy inputs, therefore making lignocellulosic biomass commercially unviable as a source of sugars for biofuel production. In the present study genes encoding for enzymes for cellulosic, hemicellulosic and starch-like polysaccharides biosynthesis were heterologously expressed to increase the amount of fermentable sugars in sugarcane. Transgenic lines heterologously expressing CsCesA, encoding a cellulose synthase from the marine invertebrate Ciona savignyi showed significant increases in their total cellulose synthase enzyme activity as well as the total cellulose content in internodal tissues. Elevation in cellulose contents was accompanied by a rise in hemicellulosic glucose content and uronic acid amounts, while total lignin was reduced in internodal tissues. Enzymatic saccharification of untreated lignocellulosic biomass of transgenic sugarcane lines had improved glucose release when exposed to cellulose hydrolyzing enzymes. Calli derived from transgenic sugarcane lines ectopically expressing galactomannan biosynthetic sequences ManS and GMGT from the cluster bean (Cyamopsis tetragonoloba) were observed to be capable of producing a galactomannan polysaccharide. However, after regeneration, transgenic sugarcane plants derived from those calli were unable to produce the polymer although the inserted genes were transcribed at the mRNA level. While the ectopic expression of Deinococcus radiodurans amylosucrase protein in the cytosol had a detrimental effect on the growth of transgenic lines (plants showed stunted growth through the 18 months growth period in greenhouse), contrastingly targeting the amylosucrase protein into the vacuole resulted in 3 months old transgenic lines which were having high maltooligosaccharide and soluble sugar (sucrose, glucose and fructose) levels in leaves. After 18 months growing in the greenhouse, the mature transgenic lines were morphologically similar to the untransformed lines and also contained comparable maltooligosaccharide and soluble sugar and starch amounts. The non-biosynthesis of galactomannan and amylose polysaccharides in the matured transgenic plants may be due to post-transcriptional protein processing and or protein instability, possibly explainable by other epigenetic mechanisms taking place to regulate gene expression in the at least allo-octaploid species of sugarcane under investigation in this study.

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