Phytochemistry Reviews

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 1305–1327 | Cite as

Lignin modification in planta for valorization

  • Toshiaki UmezawaEmail author


Lignocellulose polysaccharides are encrusted by lignin, which has long been considered an obstacle for efficient use of polysaccharides during processes such as pulping and bioethanol fermentation. Hence, numerous transgenic plant lines with reduced lignin contents have been generated, leading to more efficient enzymatic saccharification and forage digestion. However, lignin is also a potential feedstock for aromatic products and an important direct-combustion fuel, or a by-product fuel in polysaccharide utilization such as pulping and bioethanol production. For aromatic feedstock production, the complicated structure of lignin along with its occlusion within polysaccharide matrices makes lignin utilization intractable. To alleviate these difficulties, simplification of the lignin structure is an important breeding objective for future high-value utilization of lignin. In addition, higher lignin contents are beneficial for increasing heating values of lignocellulose, because lignin has much larger heating values than polysaccharides, cellulose and hemicelluloses. Structural modification of lignin may also be effective in increasing heating values of lignocellulose biomass, because the heating value of p-hydroxyphenyl lignin is highest, followed by those of guaiacyl lignin and of syringyl lignin in this order. Herein, recent developments for augmenting lignin contents and for lignin structural modifications, to improve its utilization by metabolic engineering, are outlined.


Lignin utilization Up-regulation Augmentation Structural simplification Grass biomass 



4-Hydroxycinnamate CoA ligase


p-Coumaroyl shikimate/quinate 3-hydroxylase


Cinnamate 4-hydroxylase


Cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase


Coniferaldehyde 5-hydroxylase


Caffeic acid O-methyltransferase


Cinnamoyl CoA reductase


Caffeic acid O-methyltransferase


Caffeoyl shikimate esterase


Ferulate 5-hydroxylase






Hydroxycinnamoyl CoA: shikimate/quinate hydroxycinnamoyl transferase


Higher heating value









The author thanks Haruo Kawamoto and Hisashi Miyafuji for their suggestion on reactivities of lignins, and Yuki Tobimatsu for his discussion of lignin metabolic engineering. The author’s studies outlined in this review were partly supported by the grant ‘Genetic Modification of Rice Cell Wall for Efficient Saccharification’ from the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and by the grant ‘Molecular Breeding of Lignocellulose with Higher-heating Values’ from the Advanced Low Carbon Technology Research and Development Program of The Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). This research was also supported in part by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Nos. 20380102 and 25292104) and by the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) from the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST)/Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Institute for Sustainable HumanosphereKyoto UniversityUjiJapan
  2. 2.Research Unit for Development of Global SustainabilityKyoto UniversityUjiJapan

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