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,  Mansfield SD (2019). Tailor-made trees: engineering lignin for ease of processing and tomorrow’s bioeconomy. Current opinion in biotechnology, 56, 147-155.

Chang S, Mahon EL, MacKay HA, Rottmann WH, Strauss SH, Pijut PM, Powell WA, Coffey V, Lu H, Mansfield SD,  Jones TJ (2018) Genetic engineering of trees: progress and new horizons. In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology-Plant, 54(4), 341-376.

Cullingham CI, Peery R, Fortier C, Mahon EL, Cooke JEK & Coltman DW (2019). Linking genotype to phenotype to identify genetic variation relating to host susceptibility in the mountain pine beetle system. Evolutionary Applications,doi:10.1111/eva.12773.

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)