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Biotechnol Biofuels. 2017 Nov 30;10:263. doi: 10.1186/s13068-017-0953-3. eCollection 2017.

Visualizing chemical functionality in plant cell walls.

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Biosciences Center, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO 80401 USA.
BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, PO Box 2008 MS6341, Oak Ridge, TN 37831 USA.
Department of Plant Biology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824 USA.


Understanding plant cell wall cross-linking chemistry and polymeric architecture is key to the efficient utilization of biomass in all prospects from rational genetic modification to downstream chemical and biological conversion to produce fuels and value chemicals. In fact, the bulk properties of cell wall recalcitrance are collectively determined by its chemical features over a wide range of length scales from tissue, cellular to polymeric architectures. Microscopic visualization of cell walls from the nanometer to the micrometer scale offers an in situ approach to study their chemical functionality considering its spatial and chemical complexity, particularly the capabilities of characterizing biomass non-destructively and in real-time during conversion processes. Microscopic characterization has revealed heterogeneity in the distribution of chemical features, which would otherwise be hidden in bulk analysis. Key microscopic features include cell wall type, wall layering, and wall composition-especially cellulose and lignin distributions. Microscopic tools, such as atomic force microscopy, stimulated Raman scattering microscopy, and fluorescence microscopy, have been applied to investigations of cell wall structure and chemistry from the native wall to wall treated by thermal chemical pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis. While advancing our current understanding of plant cell wall recalcitrance and deconstruction, microscopic tools with improved spatial resolution will steadily enhance our fundamental understanding of cell wall function.


Atomic force microscopy; Bioenergy; Biomass recalcitrance; Cell wall imaging; Fluorescence; Fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy; Lignocellulosic biomass; Plant cell wall; Stimulated Raman scattering

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