Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Reveal Breakthrough to Optimize Sugar Capture for Biofuel

December 5, 2012

Scientists from U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) were able to demystify the relationships between biomass cell wall structure and enzyme digestibility by combining different microscopic imaging methods. The breakthrough is believed to to optimize sugar yields and lower the costs of making biofuels.

The imaging technologies allowed the interdisciplinary team of scientists to view the plants' architecture at scales ranging from millimeter to nanometer, a range of 1 million to one. This allowed them to learn not just the plant cell wall architecture, but also the localization of the enzymes responsible for deconstruction of the cell wall polymers and the effects of enzyme action on the cell wall.

The correlative imaging in real time also allowed the team to assess the impact of lignin removal on biomass hydrolysis and to see the nanometer-scale changes in cell wall structure. This let them see how those changes affected the rate at which enzymes from two different organisms digested the plant cell walls.

For more information, view NREL's news release http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2012/2034.html.