Frontiers in Energy Research: Fall 2016

The Science of Coming Undone: Plant Style

Researchers overthrow 25 years of conventional wisdom

A detailed understanding of a plant’s cell wall will allow the conversion of plant biomass into fuels. Looking at the molecular level, scientists found that three key components don’t interact as predicted. Image Courtesy: Nathan Johnson at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

What if you could fill your car with fuel made from the plant material that's not used as either food or feed, such as poplar trees or switchgrass? The scientists at the Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation believe that understanding how cell walls are made will make it easier to take the plant matter apart to convert to biofuels. By looking at the molecular level using various techniques, they overthrew the conventional model of cell walls. They found that the cell wall strength is controlled at limited cellulose-xyloglucan junctions. This knowledge may provide a new target to break down biomass for bioenergy applications. The center is led by Pennsylvania State University.

More Information: 

Cosgrove DJ. 2014. “Re-constructing Our Models of Cellulose and Primary Cell Wall Assembly.” Current Opinion in Plant Biology 22:122-131. DOI: 10.1016/j.pbi.2014.11.001

Wang T, P Phyo, and M Hong. 2016. “Multidimensional Solid-State NMR Spectroscopy of Plant Cell Walls.” Solid State Nuclear Magnetic Resonance 78:56-63. DOI: 10.1016/j.ssnmr.2016.08.001

Disclaimer: The opinions in this newsletter are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views or position of the Department of Energy.