Researchers break through plant cell barrier

By | June 03, 2009
Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have identified potential weaknesses among sheets of cellulose molecules comprising the lignocelluloses in plant cell walls - a discovery which could lead to more cost-effective cellulosic ethanol production.

A research team led by Paul Langan used neutrons to probe the crystalline structure of highly crystalline cellulose and found that although a well-ordered network of hydrogen bonds typically holds cellulose together, the material also displays significant amounts of disorder, creating different types of hydrogen bonds at certain surfaces. Thus, once the weak spots in the plant cell's "armor" are identified, producers can attack those areas with cellulose enzymes for a more efficient break-down of the material.