Gene For Zipped Lignin Production In Plants




Lignin, an abundant polymer of vascular plants that provides structural integrity and resistance to chemical and enzymatic damage to the plant cell wall, is the second most abundant polymer on earth and critical to the strength and survival of terrestrial plants. Unfortunately, its mechanical strength and resistance to chemical degradation, which is so essential for plant health, are problematic when trying to use plants as feedstocks for certain industrial and feed applications.


Description of Technology


Michigan State University’s invention is a new technology to allow for the genetic engineering of a new type of modification in plants to produce lignins with altered structures exhibiting less resistance to chemical (mostly alkaline) degradation. Unlike many prior attempts at lignin modification, it is anticipated that this altered lignin will function properly in the cell wall and thus maintain critical functions in the plant, thereby not adversely affecting the crop growth or yield.


This particular invention relates to a strategy for partial substitution and incorporation of a novel chemical, coniferyl ferulate, into the lignin. This would introduce labile ester bonds that are easier to cleave using alkaline chemicals. As a consequence, crops and plant materials with this modification would be better feedstocks for the extraction of cellulose and other polysaccharide polymers for use in applications such as pulp and paper production, cellulosic biomass-based biofuels, and some animal feed uses.


Key Benefits

  • Improved feedstock for pulp and paper production: Transgenic trees with coniferyl-ferulate modified lignin have potential to provide a substantially better feedstock for use in the Kraft process.
  • Better cellulosic biomass feedstock: Wood, dedicated energy crops, or crop residues with altered lignin could serve as better feedstocks for cellulosic biofuels by providing a less expensive and more efficient extraction of fermentation sugars, particularly in processes involving ammonia or other alkaline pretreatment.
  • Improved ruminant feed: Forage or silage with altered lignin might have better digestibility for use in dairy production, thereby leading to higher milk yield and greater herd profitability.



  • Feedstock for Kraft process for pulp and paper
  • Feedstock for cellulosic biomass biofuels
  • Forage- or silage-based animal feed for use in dairy production


Patent Status


Patent pending




Curtis Wilkerson, John Ralph, Saunia Withers, Shawn Mansfield


Tech ID




Patent Information:


For Information, Contact:

Thomas Herlache
Assistant Director
Michigan State University