The effects of reductions in cell wall lignin content, manifested by RNA interference suppression of coumaroyl 3′-hydroxylase, on plant growth, water transport, gas exchange, and photosynthesis were evaluated in hybrid poplar trees (Populus alba 3 grandidentata). The growth characteristics of the reduced lignin trees were significantly impaired, resulting in smaller stems and reduced root biomass when compared to wild-type trees, as well as altered leaf morphology and architecture. The severe inhibition of cell wall lignification produced trees with a collapsed xylem phenotype, resulting in compromised vascular integrity, and displayed reduced hydraulic conductivity and a greater susceptibility to wall failure and cavitation. In the reduced lignin trees, photosynthetic carbon assimilation and stomatal conductance were also greatly reduced, however, shoot xylem pressure potential and carbon isotope discrimination were higher and water-use efficiency was lower, inconsistent with water stress. Reductions in assimilation rate could not be ascribed to increased stomatal limitation. Starch and soluble sugars analysis of leaves revealed that photosynthate was accumulating to high levels, suggesting that the trees with substantially reduced cell wall lignin were not carbon limited and that reductions in sink strength were, instead, limiting photosynthesis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Plant Science