Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation

Project: Research project

Project Details


Plant cell walls - also known as cellulosic biomass or lignocellulose - are among the most complex and diverse materials on Earth. These hierarchical structures represent an abundant and renewable source of valuable biomaterials and bioenergy, presenting untapped transformative opportunities for engineering them for new purposes while simultaneously providing lessons on how to mimic these complex living materials with specific, tunable properties. Plants annually convert gigatons of atmospheric CO2 into these complex and useful biomaterials that comprise over half of all biological carbon on Earth. This biological conversion helps to reduce atmospheric CO2 that contributes to climate change while generating renewable plant cell walls that are used commercially on a massive scale in the paper, timber and textile industries. Recent technical developments open new possibilities for use of modified wood and cellulose fibers as large-scale alternatives to steel, plastics, and other nonrenewable materials with high carbon footprints and energy inputs, as well as for generation of biofuels and bio-hydrogen. Despite the utility of plant-based biomaterials, many physical and biological aspects of cell wall structure and formation remain obscure, and this limits the current scope for engineering these renewable resources for greater utility. CLSF's mission is to develop a detailed nano- to meso-scale understanding of plant cell walls, from cellulose microfibril formation to the assembly of microfibrils with other cell wall components to form versatile plant cell walls. This research - at the nexus of physics, chemistry and biology - will form the foundation for future efforts to optimize the structures and utility of plant cell walls, which are essential to plant life and comprise a large-scale source of renewable biomaterials and bioenergy.CLSF goals in the current funding period include:1. Combine multiple state-of-the-art methods of electron microscopy with neutron and X-ray scattering, computational modeling and biochemistry to solve the structure and catalytic mechanism of plant cellulose synthases (CesAs) and native cellulose synthesis complexes (CSCs).2. Manipulate active CesA assemblies in vivo to learn how native CSCs are assembled and how cellulose microfibril structure depends on CSC structure.3. Extend newly-developed CLSF methods and results to analyze the physical basis of microfibril-matrix interactions in secondary cell walls and to study the structural, physical and mechanical consequences of altering these interactions.4. Use the developing Arabidopsis inflorescence stem and xylem-transdifferentiating protoplasts to study the processes involved in secondary cell wall formation.Through complementarity, the four goals will synergistically produce key insights for potential ways to achieve analogous control of other materials and for ways to tune cell wall assembly for specific properties in the materials and energy fields. Success with even a subset of these goals will enable a quantum leap in understanding how plants assemble these complex hierarchical structures.
Effective start/end date8/1/227/31/24


  • Basic Energy Sciences: $46,103,000.00


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