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    Reduced lignin content in perennial crops has been sought as a means to improve biomass processability for paper and biofuels production, but it is unclear how this could affect wood properties and tree form. Here, we studied a nontransgenic control and 14 transgenic events containing an antisense 4-coumarate:coenzyme A ligase (4CL) to discern the consequences of lignin reduction in poplar (Populus sp.). During the second year of growth, trees were grown either free-standing in a field trial or affixed to stakes in a glasshouse. Reductions in lignin of up to 40% gave comparable losses in wood strength and stiffness. This occurred despite the fact that low-lignin trees had a similar wood density and up to three-fold more tension wood. In free-standing and staked trees, the control line had twice the height for a given diameter as did low-lignin trees. Staked trees had twice the height for a given diameter as free-standing trees in the field, but did not differ in wood stiffness. Variation in tree morphogenesis appears to be governed by lignin x environment interactions mediated by stresses exerted on developing cells. Therefore our results underline the importance of field studies for assessing the performance of transgenic trees with modified wood properties.

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    Voelker, Steven L.; Lachenbruch, Barbara; Meinzer, Frederick C.; Kitin, Peter; Strauss, Steven H. 2011. Reduced wood stiffness and strength, and altered stem form, in young antisense 4CL transgenic poplars with reduced lignin contents. New Phytologist. 189: 1096-1109.


    buckling safety factor, lignin, stem form, tension wood, transgenic poplar, wood stiffness, wood strength

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