Influence of lignin in barley straw on agronomic traits and biofuel applications

  • Dominic Grussu

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In the world today there is a massive dependency on fossil fuels as they are currently used to provide around 80% of the world’s energy. This is hugely detrimental to the environment and is a major contributory factor in climate change.

Biofuel is a renewable energy source that is already being used to lessen some of the fossil fuel dependency. 2nd generation biofuels, by using non-food parts of plants, circumvent the food vs fuel argument, and by using farming waste or surplus can also avoid changing land use problems. Additionally liquid biofuels can use existing infrastructure for storage and delivery, and also fit into current lifestyles. Cost-effective 2nd generation biofuel production is directly affected by the presence of the polymer lignin in plant biomass, as it has been shown to impede enzymatic sugar release (saccharification) that is used for biofuel production.

The work undertaken in this project developed a high-throughput methodology for the assessment of straw lignin content and composition across a large population of elite varieties in the economically important cereal crop, barley. Saccharification yield was also measured across the same population along with a number of other agronomically important traits, such as thousand-grain weight, biomass, mechanical stem properties and height. The data provided by these measurements allowed correlations between traits to be identified and their strength gauged. Genome wide association studies (GWAS) were also carried out and identified influential regions of the genome for each trait.
The results revealed varying levels of association between measured traits and lignin content and monomeric constituents. Importantly a negative connection was shown between lignin content and saccharification yield, with lignin content being responsible for approximately 1/5th of the variation seen. Interestingly there was no correlation between lignin content and mechanical stem properties, an important factor in the agronomically important trait, lodging.

GWAS results revealed a number of genomic regions that were influential across several traits indicating regions that would be difficult to separate through breeding due to their close proximities. However, unique QTL were identified for saccharification yield and lignin content providing candidates for breeding or genetic manipulation to improve the crop for biofuel production.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorClaire Halpin (Supervisor)


  • Lignin
  • Barley
  • FTIR
  • Biofuels
  • GWAS

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