Doctoral Dissertations

Orcid ID

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Chemical Engineering

Major Professor

Arthur J. Ragauskas

Committee Members

Arthur Ragauskas, Mi Li, Paul Frymier, Bamin Khomami


Poplar (Populus sp.) is a promising biofuel feedstock due to advantageous features such as fast growth, the ability to grow on marginal land, and relatively low lignin content. However, there is tremendous variability associated with the composition of biomass. Understanding this variability, especially in lignin, is crucial to developing and implementing financially viable, integrated biorefineries. Although lignin is typically described as being comprised of three primary monolignols (syringyl, guaiacyl, p-hydroxyphenyl), it is a highly irregular biopolymer that can incorporate non-canonical monolignols. It is also connected by a variety of interunit linkages, adding to its complexity. Secondary cell wall formation requires the coordination of many metabolic pathways. Additionally, complex traits such as lignin are highly polygenic.

While there are several methods to analyze lignin structure, 2D HSQC NMR is a powerful analytical tool that elucidates many structural traits of lignin simultaneously. This work examined the lignin structure of 409 unique Populus trichocarpa genotypes via HSQC NMR. Twelve lignin phenotypes were subsequently utilized for a genome-wide association study (GWAS) – a powerful approach for identifying loci contributing to natural phenotypic diversity. This deep phenotyping enabled GWAS to identify 756 candidate genes associated with at least one lignin phenotype. Many of these candidate genes have not been previously reported to be associated with lignin or cell wall biosynthesis. These results provide a valuable resource for gaining insights into the molecular mechanisms of lignin biosynthesis and offer new targets for future genetic improvement in poplar.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."