Lignin is the second most abundant plant biopolymer mainly present in the secondary walls of tracheary elements and fibers in wood. Understanding how lignin is biosynthesized has long been an interest to plant biologists and will have a significant impact on tree biotechnology. Lignin is polymerized from monolignols that are synthesized through the lignin biosynthetic pathway. To make lignin, all the genes in the lignin biosynthetic pathway need to be coordinately turned on. It has been shown that a common cis-element, namely the AC element, is present in the majority of the lignin biosynthetic genes and required for their expression in lignifying cells. Important progress has been made in the identification of transcription factors that bind to the AC elements and are potentially involved in the coordinated regulation of lignin biosynthesis. The Arabidopsis MYB58 and MYB63 as well as their poplar ortholog PtrMYB28 are transcriptional activators of the lignin biosynthetic pathway, whereas the eucalyptus EgMYB2 and pine PtMYB4 transcription factors are likely Arabidopsis MYB46 orthologs involved in the regulation of the entire secondary wall biosynthetic program. It was found that the transcriptional regulation of lignin biosynthesis is under the control of the same transcriptional network regulating the biosynthesis of other secondary wall components, including cellulose and xylan. The identification of transcription factors directly activating lignin biosynthetic genes provides unprecedented tools to potentially manipulate the amount of lignin in wood and other plant products based on our needs.
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