US scientists say imaging technologies can improve sugar yields
Nov 27, 2012 - A team of US scientists have developed imaging technologies that they say could boost sugar yields and reduce the cost of biofuel production, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US said yesterday.
The technologies are aimed at learning more of the links between biomass cell wall structure and enzyme digestibility and represent a combination of different microscopic imaging methods, the US Department of Energy's lab said. The discovery allowed the researchers at NREL and the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) to learn the plant cell wall architecture, as well as the localisation of the enzymes responsible for deconstruction of the cell wall polymers and the effects of enzyme action on the cell wall.
Principal investigator Shi-You Ding of NREL explained that the usual way of understanding the structure of biomass was to break down all the individual components in order to analyse them, which led to the loss of structural integrity.
The NREL scientists found that easier access to the cell walls provided for better and quicker digestion of the material by the enzymes. They concluded that the gummy, poly-aromatic non-sugar lignin in plants hampers the ability of enzymes to access the polysaccharides -- the target of both the enzymes and the industry -- in the cell wall and that the best pre-treatment should concentrate on removing the lignin while keeping the structural polysaccharides within the cell walls untouched.
"By observing where cellulase enzymes are localized and the nanostructural changes in the plant cell wall architecture that their actions produce, we hope to suggest rational strategies for more cost effective pretreatments and better enzymes," Ding said.
BESC is a multi-institutional bioenergy research centre backed by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the Department of Energy Office of Science.