Knockdown of PCBER1, a gene of neolignan biosynthesis, resulted in increased poplar growth
Main conclusion Poplar trees displayed an increased plant height due to the transgenic knockdown of PCBER1, a gene of lignan biosynthesis. The wood composition was slightly altered in both overexpression and knockdown lines. The gene PHENYLCOUMARAN BENZYLIC ETHER REDUCTASE1 (PCBER1) is well known as an important gene in the synthesis of lignans, a group of diverse phenylpropanoid derivatives. They are widely distributed in the plant kingdom and may have a role in both plant defense and growth regulation. To analyze its role in biomass formation and wood composition in poplar, both overexpression and knockdown approaches have been performed. Transgenic lines were analyzed on genetic and phenotypic levels, and partly in regard to their biomass composition. While the PCBER1 overexpression approach remained unremarkable concerning the plant height, biomass composition of obtained transgenic lines was modified. They had a significantly increased amount of ethanol extractives. The PCBER1 knockdown resulted in significantly deviating plants; after 17 months of greenhouse cultivation, transgenic plants were up to 38% higher compared to non-transgenic wild type. Most examined transgenic lines did not reveal a significantly enhanced stem diameter after three vegetation periods in the greenhouse. Significant changes were not obtained with regard to the three major wood components, lignin, cellulose and hemicelluloses. As a slight but not significant reduction in ethanol extractives was detected, the hypothesis arises that the lignan content could be influenced. Lignans become important in the pharmaceutical industry and clinical studies concerning cancer and other diseases, thus further investigations on lignan formation in poplar and its connection to biomass formation seem promising.