U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Loosen Up Cell Walls and Get the Sugars Out
Published: April 23, 2015
Posted: February 13, 2019

Better understanding could lead to more cost-effective production of cellulosic biofuels.

The Science
Plant cell walls, which constitute the bulk of plant biomass, are diverse, complex, and dynamic in their structural composition and integrity. Cell walls are innately resistant to deconstruction by biological or chemical catalysts. This property is often referred to as recalcitrance, and recalcitrance is considered the primary barrier to cost-effective production of cellulosic biofuels. Pretreatment of plant biomass can loosen the structural integrity of cell walls, reducing their recalcitrance to deconstruction, and this study provides insights into how pretreatment induces such cell wall modifications in different types of biomass.

The Impact
An in-depth understanding of pretreatment-induced modifications to cell wall components in diverse plant biomass may help to identify the components that contribute to recalcitrance and thus facilitate the targeting of those components for genetic modification to ease production challenges for renewable fuels.

Researchers at the U.S. Department Energy’s (DOE) BioEnergy Science Center and Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center examined samples from various plant species using newly emerging experimental approaches for cell wall analysis. An AFEX™ (ammonia fiber expansion) pretreatment method was employed on some of the samples to alter cell wall composition and architecture. These altered walls were then characterized using glycome profiling to identify changes in the walls that lead to reduced recalcitrance and consequently draw inferences about overall cell wall architecture in the various plants tested. In general, the researchers found that AFEX™ pretreatment causes loosening and improved accessibility of different glycans within plant cell walls, but that these effects vary significantly depending on the type of biomass.

Shishir Chundawat
Rutgers University, New Jersey

This work was supported in part by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science (Grant DE-AC05-00OR22725 and Cooperative Agreement DE-FC02-07ER64494 between The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and DOE), National Science Foundation (NSF) Plant Genome Program (DBI-0421683 and IOS-0923992), and NSF Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems-Energy for Sustainability program (Grant 1236120).

S. Pattathil, M. G. Hahn, B. E. Dale, and S. P. S. Chundawat, “Insights into plant cell wall structure, architecture, and integrity using glycome profiling of native and AFEX™-pretreated biomass.” Journal of  Experimental Botany 66 (14), 4279-4294 (2015). [DOI: 10.1093/jxb/erv107].

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Plant Systems and Feedstocks, Plant-Microbe Interactions
  • Research Area: DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRC)
  • Research Area: Structural Biology, Biomolecular Characterization and Imaging

Division: SC-23.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER


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