Expression of the Trichoderma reesei expansin-like protein, swollenin, in poplar results in biomass with improved sugar release by enzymatic hydrolysis

Yao Xiao, Charleson Poovaiah, Faride Unda, Linnea Ritchie, Maria Dombrov, Caitlin Phalen, Amy Argyros, Heather Coleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Ethanol production from lignocellulosic biomass has been considered an alternative to corn-based ethanol and fossil fuel. However, the secondary cell wall structure prevents efficient degradation of cellulose. Expression of cell wall degrading enzymes has been suggested as one solution to generate suitable feedstocks for lignocellulosic ethanol production. Swollenin (SWO), originating from Trichoderma reesei, disrupts cellulose structure with low-level hydrolytic activity to the glucan chain. Previously, characterization of T. reesei SWO has been carried out in multiple microorganisms and tobacco. This study heterologously overexpressed T. reesei SWO in hybrid poplar (Populus tremula × alba), a promising feedstock for biofuel production, under the control of either the constitutive Cauliflower Mosaic Virus 35S (CaMV 35S) promoter or the putative vascular tissue specific Subterranean Clover Stunt Virus S7 (SCSV) promoter. Transgenic poplar lines with high or moderate SWO expression level showed abnormal growth and reduced biomass production, along with increased glucose and reduced lignin contents. Increased cellulose crystallinity was observed in two transgenic events. This study also investigated the effect of in planta SWO expression on cellulose saccharification efficiency and found that transgenic events improved glucan conversion rates compared to wild type poplar. The results suggest SWO-overexpressing transgenic poplar lines could be a potential feedstock for ethanol production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105473
JournalBiomass and Bioenergy
StatePublished - Mar 2020



  • Biofuel production
  • Non-hydrolytic activity
  • Saccharification
  • Transgenic poplar
  • Trichoderma reesei swollenin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Waste Management and Disposal

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