Elizabeth (Liz) Mahon

PhD Candidate

LinkedIn:  Elizabeth Mahon


Engineering plants to include novel monolignols during plant cell wall lignification

Research Interest

Fermentation of lignocellulosic-derived sugars, such as those found in poplar, offers a promising source of renewable bio-based products. However, cell walls found in potential lignocellulosic feed stocks are composed of a complex, chemically linked matrix of cellulose, hemi-cellulose and lignin making their woody tissues highly recalcitrant to extraction of the available cell wall carbohydrate.

Monolignols are the phenolic monomers that polymerize to form lignin. Recently, the successful incorporation of non-canonical monolignols into lignin polymers has introduced the possibility of producing novel “designer lignins” which reduce cell wall recalcitrance to extraction of fermentable sugars for use in biofuel production.
My research aims to further investigate novel methods of altering lignification in poplar to improve lignin’s amenability to depolymerisation through incorporation of alternative monolignol units. I am working to engineer Arabidopsis and poplar trees (Populus alba x grandidentata), to synthesize alternative phenolic monomers, in order to determine if they can be successfully incorporated into lignin, and if incorporation of these non-canonical monolignol units into lignin impacts cell wall recalcitrance and ultimately improves efficiency of biomass processing.


BSc – Molecular Genetics (Honors), University of Alberta (2014)

MSc – Plant Biology, University of Alberta (2016)

Selected Publications and Presentations

*Mahon EL, Arango-Velez, A, Cooke, JEK, Microarray analysis of lodgepole and jack pine seedlings responding to inoculation by mountain pine beetle fungal associate Grosmania clavigera under well watered and water deficit conditions. Plant Biotech 2016, June 2016 Kingston ON. Poster Presentation

*Mahon EL, Arango-Velez, A, Cullingham, CI, Cooke, JEK (2015) Expression profiling of lodgepole and jack pine chitinase gene family in response to inoculation by mountain pine beetle fungal associate Grosmania clavigera. IUFRO Tree Biotechnology Conference, Florence Italy, June 2015. Poster Presentation.

*Mahon EL, Arango-Velez, A, Cooke, JEK (2015) Expression profiling of the lodgepole and jack pine chitinase gene families in response to inoculation by the mountain pine beetle fungal associate Grosmania clavigera. Forest Biology Symposium 2015, Victoria BC, May 2015. Oral Presentation.

Awards, Grants, Scholarships

  • University of British Columbia four year fellowship (2017)
  • C. D. Nelson Award in Plant Biology (2016)
  • Dr. Edwin A. Cossins Graduate Scholarship in Plant Molecular Biology (2015)
  • Ben Karvonen Memorial Graduate Scholarship in Plant Biology (2015)
  • University of Alberta, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship (2014 & 2015)
  • Lakshmi Memorial Award (2015)
  • Julia O’Hrapko Graduate Scholarship in Plant Ecology (2014)
  • University of Alberta, Undergraduate research initiative (2013)
  • The Dr. Ramesh Bhambhani & WH Freeman Scholarship for Excellence in Genetics (2013)