, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 457-469
Date: 13 Feb 2014

Increased bioethanol production from commercial tobacco cultivars overexpressing thioredoxin f grown under field conditions

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Bioethanol is mainly produced from food crops such as sugar cane and maize, and this has been held partly responsible for the rise of food commodity prices. Tobacco, integrated in biorefinery facilities for the extraction of different compounds, could become an alternative feedstock for biofuel production. When grown for energy production, using high plant densities and several mowings during the growing season, tobacco can produce large amounts of inexpensive green biomass. We have bred two commercial tobacco cultivars (Virginia Gold and Havana 503B) to increase the carbohydrate content by the overexpression of thioredoxin f in the chloroplast. Marker-free transplastomic plants were recovered and their agronomic performance under field conditions was evaluated. These plants were phenotypically equivalent to their wild types yet showed increased starch (up to 280 %) and soluble sugar (up to 74 %) contents in leaves relative to their control plants. Fermentable sugars released from the stalk were also higher (up to 24 %) for transplastomic plants. After heat pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis and yeast fermentation of leaf and stalk hydrolysates, an average of 20–40 % more ethanol was obtained from transplastomic plants than their wild-type controls. We propose an integral exploitation of the entire tobacco plant managed as a forage crop (harvesting sugar and starch-rich leaves and lignocellulosic stalks) that could considerably cheapen the entire production process.