Genetic Regulation for Lignin Reduction and Flavonoid Enhancement in Plants

UT-Battelle, LLC, acting under its Prime Contract No. DE-AC05-00OR22725 with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for the management and operation of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), is seeking a commercialization partner for an opportunity based on the Genetic Regulation for Lignin Reduction in Plants.  The ORNL Technology Transfer Office will accept licensing applications through August 17, 2015.

ORNL researchers have studied natural variation in lignin content in a population of Poplar trees to understand the genetic basis of cell wall recalcitrance effecting the conversion of biomass into biofuels and bioproducts.  This research resulted in the identification of a gene with major effects on lignin biosynthesis, the key polymer hindering efficient biomass digestibility. This gene regulates carbon flow entering the phenylpropanoid, tyrosine, flavonoid and tryptophan pathways. Variants of the gene function by redirecting carbon flux from lignin biosynthesis toward flavonoid or tryptophan biosynthesis resulting in highly increased accessibility to cellulose.  In addition to utility in biofuels production, this genetic regulator has application in forage crops where low lignin and high flavonoid content are both highly valued traits for improved digestibility and reduced proteolysis, respectively. The newly identified gene can be manipulated in Poplar, Eucalyptus, alfalfa, rice and other pants to enhance plant performance without producing undesirable phenotypes. The following are some of the experimental validated advantages observed across different plant systems:

  • Reduce lignin content by up to 50% and increased sugar release by up to 280% and ethanol yield by up to 250% in Poplar trees,
  • Reduced lignin content by up to 25% in Medicago,
  • Increase flavonoid content by more than 250% in both Populus and Medicago,
  • Validated in Populus, Medicago and Arabidopsis, and Rice,
  • Additional market opportunities in human nutritional supplements and crops fortified with flavonoids.

This technology was originally developed using federal funds and selected for further development under the laboratory's Technology Innovation Program (TIP). TIP supports technology development using royalties from existing technology licenses to accelerate the market readiness of high potential technologies.

License applications will be evaluated based on prospective partners' ability and commitment to successfully commercialize the technology.  If a license is executed, the ORNL researchers developing the technology will be eligible to compete for additional TIP funding to further advance the technology.

Please contact Jennifer Caldwell, Group Leader, Technology Commercialization, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 865.574.4180, caldwelljt@ornl.gov with any questions and to obtain a license application for this opportunity.

Intellectual Property

UTB ID 201403346,  A Transcription Factor Which Regulates Flavonoid, Phenylpropanoid, Tyrosine, and Tryptophan Pathways, U.S. Patent Application 14/720,023 filed on May 22, 2015.

Technology Summaries