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Concept: Cellulose


The cell walls in plants are made up of just four basic building blocks: cellulose (the main structural fibre of the plant kingdom) hemicellulose, lignin and pectin. Although the microstructure of plant cell walls varies in different types of plants, broadly speaking, cellulose fibres reinforce a matrix of hemicellulose and either pectin or lignin. The cellular structure of plants varies too, from the largely honeycomb-like cells of wood to the closed-cell, liquid-filled foam-like parenchyma cells of apples and potatoes and to composites of these two cellular structures, as in arborescent palm stems. The arrangement of the four basic building blocks in plant cell walls and the variations in cellular structure give rise to a remarkably wide range of mechanical properties: Young’s modulus varies from 0.3 MPa in parenchyma to 30 GPa in the densest palm, while the compressive strength varies from 0.3 MPa in parenchyma to over 300 MPa in dense palm. The moduli and compressive strength of plant materials span this entire range. This study reviews the composition and microstructure of the cell wall as well as the cellular structure in three plant materials (wood, parenchyma and arborescent palm stems) to explain the wide range in mechanical properties in plants as well as their remarkable mechanical efficiency.

Concepts: Eukaryote, Plant, Fungus, Cell wall, Lignin, Cellulose, Wood, Plant cell


ABSTRACT Lignocellulosic biomass, the most abundant polymer on Earth, is typically composed of three major constituents: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. The crystallinity of cellulose, hydrophobicity of lignin, and encapsulation of cellulose by the lignin-hemicellulose matrix are three major factors that contribute to the observed recalcitrance of lignocellulose. By means of designer cellulosome technology, we can overcome the recalcitrant properties of lignocellulosic substrates and thus increase the level of native enzymatic degradation. In this context, we have integrated six dockerin-bearing cellulases and xylanases from the highly cellulolytic bacterium, Thermobifida fusca, into a chimeric scaffoldin engineered to bear a cellulose-binding module and the appropriate matching cohesin modules. The resultant hexavalent designer cellulosome represents the most elaborate artificial enzyme composite yet constructed, and the fully functional complex achieved enhanced levels (up to 1.6-fold) of degradation of untreated wheat straw compared to those of the wild-type free enzymes. The action of these designer cellulosomes on wheat straw was 33 to 42% as efficient as the natural cellulosomes of Clostridium thermocellum. In contrast, the reduction of substrate complexity by chemical or biological pretreatment of the substrate removed the advantage of the designer cellulosomes, as the free enzymes displayed higher levels of activity, indicating that enzyme proximity between these selected enzymes was less significant on pretreated substrates. Pretreatment of the substrate caused an increase in activity for all the systems, and the native cellulosome completely converted the substrate into soluble saccharides. IMPORTANCE Cellulosic biomass is a potential alternative resource which could satisfy future demands of transportation fuel. However, overcoming the natural lignocellulose recalcitrance remains challenging. Current research and development efforts have concentrated on the efficient cellulose-degrading strategies of cellulosome-producing anaerobic bacteria. Cellulosomes are multienzyme complexes capable of converting the plant cell wall polysaccharides into soluble sugar products en route to biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels. Using a designer cellulosome approach, we have constructed the largest form of homogeneous artificial cellulosomes reported to date, which bear a total of six different cellulases and xylanases from the highly cellulolytic bacterium Thermobifida fusca. These designer cellulosomes were comparable in size to natural cellulosomes and displayed enhanced synergistic activities compared to their free wild-type enzyme counterparts. Future efforts should be invested to improve these processes to approach or surpass the efficiency of natural cellulosomes for cost-effective production of biofuels.

Concepts: Bacteria, Enzyme, Glucose, Cell wall, Polysaccharide, Lignin, Cellulose, Cellulosic ethanol


Temperate perennial grasses are important worldwide as a livestock nutritive energy source and a potential feedstock for lignocellulosic biofuel production. The annual temperate grass Brachypodium distachyon has been championed as a useful model system to facilitate biological research in agriculturally important temperate forage grasses based on phylogenetic relationships. To physically corroborate genetic predictions, we determined the chemical composition profiles of organ-specific cell walls throughout the development of two common diploid accessions of Brachypodium distachyon, Bd21-3 and Bd21. Chemical analysis was performed on cell walls isolated from distinct organs (i.e., leaves, sheaths, stems, and roots) at three developmental stages of (1) 12-day seedling, (2) vegetative-to-reproductive transition, and (3) mature seed fill. In addition, we have included cell wall analysis of embryonic callus used for genetic transformations. Composition of cell walls based on components lignin, hydroxycinnamates, uronosyls, neutral sugars, and protein suggests that Brachypodium distachyon is similar chemically to agriculturally important forage grasses. There were modest compositional differences in hydroxycinnamate profiles between accessions Bd21-3 and Bd21. In addition, when compared to agronomical important C3 grasses, more mature Brachypodium stem cell walls have a relative increase in glucose of 48% and a decrease in lignin of 36%. Though differences exist between Brachypodium and agronomical important C3 grasses, Brachypodium distachyon should be still a useful model system for genetic manipulation of cell wall composition to determine the impact upon functional characteristics such as rumen digestibility or energy conversion efficiency for bioenergy production.

Concepts: Cell, Bacteria, Glucose, Chemistry, Cell wall, Cellulose, Carbohydrate, Brachypodium distachyon


BACKGROUND: Lignin is one of the three major components in plant cell walls, and it can be isolated (dissolved) from the cell wall in pretreatment or chemical pulping. However, there is a lack of high-value applications for lignin, and the commonest proposal for lignin is power and steam generation through combustion. Organosolv ethanol process is one of the effective pretreatment methods for woody biomass for cellulosic ethanol production, and kraft process is a dominant chemical pulping method in paper industry. In the present research, the lignins from organosolv pretreatment and kraft pulping were evaluated to replace polyol for producing rigid polyurethane foams (RPFs). RESULTS: Petroleum-based polyol was replaced with hardwood ethanol organosolv lignin (HEL) or hardwood kraft lignin (HKL) from 25% to 70% (molar percentage) in preparing rigid polyurethane foam. The prepared foams contained 12-36% (w/w) HEL or 9-28% (w/w) HKL. The density, compressive strength, and cellular structure of the prepared foams were investigated and compared. Chain extenders were used to improve the properties of the RPFs. CONCLUSIONS: It was found that lignin was chemically crosslinked not just physically trapped in the rigid polyurethane foams. The lignin-containing foams had comparable structure and strength up to 25-30% (w/w) HEL or 19-23% (w/w) HKL addition. The results indicated that HEL performed much better in RPFs and could replace more polyol at the same strength than HKL because the former had a better miscibility with the polyol than the latter. Chain extender such as butanediol could improve the strength of lignin-containing RPFs.

Concepts: Cell, Cell wall, Lignin, Cellulose, Polyurethane, Wood, Pulp and paper industry, Kraft process


BACKGROUND: Ramie fiber, extracted from vegetative organ stem bast, is one of the most important natural fibers. Understanding the molecular mechanisms of the vegetative growth of the ramie and the formation and development of bast fiber is essential for improving the yield and quality of the ramie fiber. However, only 418 expressed tag sequences (ESTs) of ramie deposited in public databases are far from sufficient to understand the molecular mechanisms. Thus, high-throughput transcriptome sequencing is essential to generate enormous ramie transcript sequences for the purpose of gene discovery, especially genes such as the cellulose synthase (CesA) gene. RESULTS: Using Illumina paired-end sequencing, about 53 million sequencing reads were generated. De novo assembly yielded 43,990 unigenes with an average length of 824 bp. By sequence similarity searching for known proteins, a total of 34,192 (77.7%) genes were annotated for their function. Out of these annotated unigenes, 16,050 and 13,042 unigenes were assigned to gene ontology and clusters of orthologous group, respectively. Searching against the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes Pathway database (KEGG) indicated that 19,846 unigenes were mapped to 126 KEGG pathways, and 565 genes were assigned to starch and sucrose metabolic pathway which was related with cellulose biosynthesis. Additionally, 51 CesA genes involved in cellulose biosynthesis were identified. Analysis of tissue-specific expression pattern of the 51 CesA genes revealed that there were 36 genes with a relatively high expression levels in the stem bark, which suggests that they are most likely responsible for the biosynthesis of bast fiber. CONCLUSION: To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to characterize the ramie transcriptome and the substantial amount of transcripts obtained will accelerate the understanding of the ramie vegetative growth and development mechanism. Moreover, discovery of the 36 CesA genes with relatively high expression levels in the stem bark will present an opportunity to understand the ramie bast fiber formation and development mechanisms.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Molecular biology, Cellulose, Bast fibre, Ramie


BACKGROUND: During cellulosic ethanol production, cellulose hydrolysis is achieved by synergetic action of cellulase enzyme complex consisting of multiple enzymes with different mode of actions. Enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulose is one of the bottlenecks in the commercialization of the process due to low hydrolysis rates and high cost of enzymes. A robust hydrolysis model that can predict hydrolysis profile under various scenarios can act as an important forecasting tool to improve the hydrolysis process. However, multiple factors affecting hydrolysis: cellulose structure and complex enzyme-substrate interactions during hydrolysis make it diffucult to develop mathematical kinetic models that can simulate hydrolysis in presence of multiple enzymes with high fidelity. In this study, a comprehensive hydrolysis model based on stochastic molecular modeling approch in which each hydrolysis event is translated into a discrete event is presented. The model captures the structural features of cellulose, enzyme properties (mode of actions, synergism, inhibition), and most importantly dynamic morphological changes in the substrate that directly affect the enzyme-substrate interactions during hydrolysis. RESULTS: Cellulose was modeled as a group of microfibrils consisting of elementary fibrils bundles, where each elementary fibril was represented as a three dimensional matrix of glucose molecules. Hydrolysis of cellulose was simulated based on Monte Carlo simulation technique. Cellulose hydrolysis results predicted by model simulations agree well with the experimental data from literature. Coefficients of determination for model predictions and experimental values were in the range of 0.75 to 0.96 for Avicel hydrolysis by CBH I action. Model was able to simulate the synergistic action of multiple enzymes during hydrolysis. The model simulations captured the important experimental observations: effect of structural properties, enzyme inhibition and enzyme loadings on the hydrolysis and degree of synergism among enzymes. CONCLUSIONS: The model was effective in capturing the dynamic behavior of cellulose hydrolysis during action of individual as well as multiple cellulases. Simulations were in qualitative and quantitative agreement with experimental data. Several experimentally observed phenomena were simulated without the need for any additional assumptions or parameter changes and confirmed the validity of using the stochastic molecular modeling approach to quantitatively and qualitatively describe the cellulose hydrolysis.

Concepts: Enzyme, Glucose, Starch, Simulation, Cellulose, Hydrolysis, Cellulosic ethanol, Cellulase


Fuel ethanol production from sustainable and largely abundant agro-residues such as sugarcane bagasse (SB) provides long term, geopolitical and strategic benefits. Pretreatment of SB is an inevitable process for improved saccharification of cell wall carbohydrates. Recently, ammonium hydroxide-based pretreatment technologies have gained significance as an effective and economical pretreatment strategy. We hypothesized that soaking in concentrated aqueous ammonia-mediated thermochemical pretreatment (SCAA) would overcome the native recalcitrance of SB by enhancing cellulase accessibility of the embedded holocellulosic microfibrils.

Concepts: Ammonia, Ethanol, Cellulose, Hydrolysis, Biofuel, Ethanol fuel, Sugarcane, Bagasse


L-Arabinose is a useful sugar in the food industry. We demonstrate here simple methods for refining arabinan polysaccharides by alcohol extraction from prune, Prunus domestica L., as a source of L-arabinose. Alcohol-soluble polysaccharides were purified from a solution of prune extracted by 80% ethanol. After fractionating the polysaccharides by ion-exchange chromatography, arabinans were identified as mainly constituted by (1→5)-linked arabinofuranosyl units.

Concepts: Glucose, Food, Starch, Cellulose, Carbohydrate, Monosaccharide, Food industry, Plum


O-linked glycosylation is one of the most abundant post-translational modifications of proteins. Within the secretory pathway of higher eukaryotes, the core of these glycans is frequently an N-acetylgalactosamine residue that is α-linked to serine or threonine residues. Glycoside hydrolases in family 101 are presently the only known enzymes to be able to hydrolyze this glycosidic linkage. Here we determine the high-resolution structures of the catalytic domain comprising a fragment of GH101 from Streptococcus pneumoniae TIGR4, SpGH101, in the absence of carbohydrate, and in complex with reaction products, inhibitor, and substrate analogues. Upon substrate binding, a tryptophan lid (residues 724-WNW-726) closes on the substrate. The closing of this lid fully engages the substrate in the active site with D764 positioned directly beneath C1 of the sugar residue bound within the -1 subsite, consistent with its proposed role as the catalytic nucleophile. In all of the bound forms of the enzyme, however, the proposed catalytic acid/base residue was found to be too distant from the glycosidic oxygen (>4.3 Å) to serve directly as a general catalytic acid/base residue and thereby facilitate cleavage of the glycosidic bond. These same complexes, however, revealed a structurally conserved water molecule positioned between the catalytic acid/base and the glycosidic oxygen. On the basis of these structural observations we propose a new variation of the retaining glycoside hydrolase mechanism wherein the intervening water molecule enables a Grotthuss proton shuttle between E796 and the glycosidic oxygen, permitting this residue to serve as the general acid/base catalytic residue.

Concepts: Enzyme, Starch, Polysaccharide, Cellulose, Glycosylation, Carbohydrate chemistry, Glycoside, Carbohydrates


The term cellulase refers to any component of the enzymatic complex produced by some fungi, bacteria and protozoans which act serially or synergistically to catalyze the cleavage of cellulosic materials. Cellulases have been widely used in many industrial applications ranging from food industry to the production of second generation ethanol. In an effort to develop new strategies to minimize the costs of enzyme production we describe the development of a Pichia pastoris strain able to coproduce two different cellulases. For that purpose the eglII (endoglucanase II) and cbhII (cellobiohydrolase II) genes from Trichoderma reesei were fused in-frame separated by the self-processing 2A peptide sequence from the foot-and-mouth disease virus. The protein fusion construct was placed under the control of the strong inducible AOX1 promoter. Analysis of culture supernatants from methanol-induced yeast transformants showed that the protein fusion was effectively processed. Enzymatic assay showed that the processed enzymes were fully functional with the same catalytic properties of the individual enzymes produced separately. Furthermore, when combined both enzymes acted synergistically on filter paper to produce cellobiose as the main end-product. Based on these results we propose that P. pastoris should be considered as an alternative platform for the production of cellulases at competitive costs.

Concepts: Protein, Metabolism, Enzyme, Catalysis, Cellulose, Hydrolysis, Enzyme assay, Cellulosic ethanol