The composition of lignin in tobacco stems has been altered by genetic engineering. Antisense expression of sequences encoding cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase (CAD), the enzyme catalysing the final step in lignin precursor synthesis, leads to the production of a modified lignin in otherwise normal plants. Although Klason and acetyl bromide lignin determinations show little quantitative change in lignin deposition in CAD antisense plants, a number of qualitative changes have been identified. The lignin is altered in both composition and structure and is more susceptible to chemical extraction. Consistent with a block in CAD activity, antisense plants incorporate less cinnamyl alcohol monomers and more cinnamyl aldehyde monomers into lignin than corresponding control plants. Antisense plants with very low levels of CAD activity also show a novel phenotype with the appearance of a red-brown colour in xylem tissues. A similar phenotype is correlated with altered lignification and improved digestibility in brown-midrib mutants of maize and sorghum. The improved chemical extractability of lignin in CAD antisense plants supports a role for this technology in improving the pulp and paper-making value of forest trees while the similarity with brown-midrib mutants suggests a route to more digestible forage crops.

Plant J.

Halpin, C, Knight, M. E, Foxon, G. A, Campbell, M. M, Boudet, A. M, Boon, J. J, … Schuch, W. (1994). Manipulation of lignin quality by downregulation of cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase. Plant J., 6, 339–350.