Lignin monomers from beyond the canonical monolignol biosynthetic pathway: Another brick in the wall
Lignin is conventionally defined as being formed by the oxidative polymerization of three main monolignols, p-coumaryl alcohol, coniferyl alcohol, and sinapyl alcohol, that are derived from the general phenylpropanoid biosynthetic pathway. Many other phenolic compounds that are also derived from the phenylpropanoid pathway are also known to perform as genuine lignin monomers in many plants, as is the case of the monolignol ester conjugates, phenolic compounds arising from the truncated biosynthesis of monolignols, or ferulate esters. Recent investigations, however, have indicated that phenolic compounds arising from beyond the canonical phenylpropanoid pathway, namely flavonoids, hydroxystilbenes, and hydroxycinnamic amides, may also behave as authentic lignin monomers and are incorporated into the lignin in some plants, further challenging the traditional definition of lignin. This is the case of the flavone tricin that is incorporated into the lignin of grasses and other monocots, the hydroxystilbene piceatannol (together with resveratrol and isorhapontigenin, at lower levels) that has been found in the lignins of palm fruit shells, their respective O-glucosides (astringin, piceid, and isorhapontin) that are present in the lignin of Norway spruce bark, or the ferulic amides feruloyltyramine, incorporated into the lignin of tobacco and potato tubers, and diferuloylputrescine, which appears to be incorporated into maize kernel lignin. These valuable compounds are potentially available in high amounts and at low cost and may be obtained from the waste products from the processing of agricultural or forest biomass.