In recent decades cultivation of flax and its application have dramatically decreased. One of the reasons for this is unpredictable quality and properties of flax fibre, because they depend on environmental factors, retting duration and growing conditions. These factors have contribution to the fibre composition, which consists of cellulose, hemicelluloses, lignin and pectin. By far, it is largely established that in flax, lignin reduces an accessibility of enzymes either to pectin, hemicelluloses or cellulose (during retting or in biofuel synthesis and paper production).
Therefore, in this study we evaluated composition and properties of flax fibre from plants with silenced CAD (cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase) gene, which is key in the lignin biosynthesis. There is evidence that CAD is a useful tool to improve lignin digestibility and/or to lower the lignin levels in plants.
Two studied lines responded differentially to the introduced modification due to the efficiency of the CAD silencing. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that flax CAD belongs to the “bona-fide” CAD family. CAD down-regulation had an effect in the reduced lignin amount in the flax fibre cell wall and as FT-IR results suggests, disturbed lignin composition and structure. Moreover introduced modification activated a compensatory mechanism which was manifested in the accumulation of cellulose and/or pectin. These changes had putative correlation with observed improved fiber’s tensile strength. Moreover, CAD down-regulation did not disturb at all or has only slight effect on flax plants’ development in vivo, however, the resistance against flax major pathogen Fusarium oxysporum decreased slightly. The modification positively affected fibre possessing; it resulted in more uniform retting.
The major finding of our paper is that the modification targeted directly to block lignin synthesis caused not only reduced lignin level in fibre, but also affected amount and organization of cellulose and pectin. However, to conclude that all observed changes are trustworthy and correlated exclusively to CAD repression, further analysis of the modified plants genome is necessary. Secondly, this is one of the first studies on the crop from the low-lignin plants from the field trail which demonstrates that such plants could be successfully cultivated in a field.