Integrative Analysis of Transgenic Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) Suggests New Metabolic Control Mechanisms for Monolignol Biosynthesis
Dixon, Richard A.
Voit, Eberhard O.
MetadataShow full item record
The entanglement of lignin polymers with cellulose and hemicellulose in plant cell walls is a major biological barrier to the economically viable production of biofuels from woody biomass. Recent efforts of reducing this recalcitrance with transgenic techniques have been showing promise for ameliorating or even obviating the need for costly pretreatments that are otherwise required to remove lignin from cellulose and hemicelluloses. At the same time, genetic manipulations of lignin biosynthetic enzymes have sometimes yielded unforeseen consequences on lignin composition, thus raising the question of whether the current understanding of the pathway is indeed correct. To address this question systemically, we developed and applied a novel modeling approach that, instead of analyzing the pathway within a single target context, permits a comprehensive, simultaneous investigation of different datasets in wild type and transgenic plants. Specifically, the proposed approach combines static flux-based analysis with a Monte Carlo simulation in which very many randomly chosen sets of parameter values are evaluated against kinetic models of lignin biosynthesis in different stem internodes of wild type and lignin-modified alfalfa plants. In addition to four new postulates that address the reversibility of some key reactions, the modeling effort led to two novel postulates regarding the control of the lignin biosynthetic pathway. The first posits functionally independent pathways toward the synthesis of different lignin monomers, while the second postulate proposes a novel feedforward regulatory mechanism. Subsequent laboratory experiments have identified the signaling molecule salicylic acid as a potential mediator of the postulated control mechanism. Overall, the results demonstrate that mathematical modeling can be a valuable complement to conventional transgenic approaches and that it can provide biological insights that are otherwise difficult to obtain.