Expression of a fungal ferulic acid esterase increases cell wall digestibility of tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea)

Marcia M.De O. Buanafina, Tim Langdon, Barbara Hauck, Sue Dalton, Phillip Morris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


In the cell walls of forage grasses, ferulic acid is esterified to arabinoxylans and participates with lignin monomers in oxidative coupling pathways to generate ferulate-polysaccharide-lignin complexes that cross-link the cell wall. Such cross-links hinder cell wall degradation by ruminant microbes, reducing plant digestibility. In this study, genetically modified Festuca arundinacea plants were produced expressing an Aspergillus niger ferulic acid esterase (FAEA) targeted to the vacuole. The rice actin promoter proved to be effective for FAEA expression, as did the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S and maize ubiquitin promoters. Higher levels of expression were, however, found with inducible heat-shock and senescence promoters. Following cell death and subsequent incubation, vacuole-targeted FAEA resulted in the release of both monomeric and dimeric ferulic acids from the cell walls, and this was enhanced several fold by the addition of exogenous endo-1,4-β-xylanase. Most of the FAEA-expressing plants showed increased digestibility and reduced levels of cell wall esterified phenolics relative to non-transformed plants. It is concluded that targeted FAEA expression is an effective strategy for improving wall digestibility in Festuca and, potentially, other grass species used for fodder or cellulosic ethanol production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)264-280
Number of pages17
JournalPlant Biotechnology Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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