Genetic studies are ideal platforms for assessing the extent of genetic diversity, inferring the genetic architecture, and evaluating complex trait interrelations for cell wall compositional and bioconversion traits relevant to bioenergy applications. Through the characterization of a forage maize doubled haploid (DH) population, we indicate the substantial degree of highly heritable (h2 > ~65 %) diversity in cell wall composition and bioconversion potential available within this important agronomic species. In addition to variation in lignin content, extensive genotypic diversity was found for the concentration and composition of hemicelluloses, the latter found to exert an influence on the recalcitrance of maize cell walls. Our results also demonstrate that forage maize harbors considerable variation for the release of cell wall glucose following pretreatment and enzymatic saccharification. In fact, the extent of variability observed for bioconversion efficiency (nearly 30 % between population extremes) greatly exceeded ranges reported in previous studies. In our population, a total of 52 quantitative trait loci (QTL) were detected for biomass compositional and bioconversion characters across 8 chromosomes. Noteworthy, from eight QTL related to bioconversion properties, five were previously unidentified and warrant further investigation. Ultimately, our results substantiate forage maize germplasm as a valid genetic resource for advancing cell wall degradability traits in bioenergy maize-breeding programs. However, since useful variation for cell wall traits is defined by QTL with “minor” effects (R2 = ~10 %), cultivar development for bio-based applications will rely on advanced marker-assisted selection procedures centered on detecting and increasing the frequency of favorable QTL alleles in elite flint and dent germplasm.
- Cell wall composition