Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Changing Cellulose-Forming Process May Tap Plants' Biofuel Potential

Published: Monday, April 29, 2013
Last Updated: Monday, April 29, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Changing the way a plant forms cellulose may lead to more efficient, less expensive biofuel production, according to Penn State engineers.

"What every biofuel manufacturer wants to do is to get to the sugars," said Jeffrey Catchmark, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering. "But the structure of cellulose itself can be an obstacle."

Catchmark said that most of a plant's sugar-based energy is locked up in the crystalline structure of cellulose. To make cellulose, plants create long chains of sugar -- glucose -- that are then crystallized and densely packed into tight, ordered bundles resistant to water and other solvents. This bundling may help build strong plant cell walls, but biofuel makers must use extra effort to break down and separate the bundles and the crystalline cellulose to extract the sugars used to ferment fuels.

Using bacteria that produce cellulose as a model to test the process, the researchers discovered an approach for modifying cellulose synthesis in living plants for improved biofuel-making efficiency.

During the synthesis process the researchers added glucomannan, a complex carbohydrate found in plants that sticks to cellulose, and found that it altered the structure and assembly of the cellulose, allowing it to be broken down more efficiently.

Another method to ensure the glucomannan is added during cellulose formation requires genetically engineering the plant to express or over-express the enzymes that form the glucomannan, according to the researchers, who applied for a provisional patent on the process.

"In our work, what we are interested in is whether we can improve digestibility by altering the crystal structure or by altering the bundle formation," said Catchmark, who worked with Lin Fang, graduate student in agricultural and biological engineering.

By growing plants with cellulose that is less crystalized and that has fewer structured bundles, biofuel manufacturers will not need to spend as much time and effort breaking down these pre-treated plants, according to the researchers. Currently, biofuel manufacturers must use several industrial processes that are time- and energy-intensive and relatively expensive, including chemical, mechanical and fermentation, to break down the cellulose and separate other materials.

Catchmark said that biofuel manufacturers may be able to further optimize production processes to suit the modified plants for even greater efficiency.

"This will give biofuel makers more options," Catchmark said. "Hopefully, you will need less effort and lower costs with the pre-treatment, but with improved conversion efficiency."

Catchmark said that while the technique was used on bacteria, it could be adapted to various plant species because both plants and certain bacteria share similarities in how they create cellulose. He said that researchers could use the process in both grass and wood plant species, giving biofuel makers additional options. The researchers now plan to test the methods on plants.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

E. coli Thrive in Patients With Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Researchers have defined a fundamental mechanism through which the bacteria can thrive during IBD flare-ups.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Research On Mitochondrial DNA Could Bolster Forensic Investigations
A new grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will help scientists from Penn State’s Eberly College of Science delve deep into the world of mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, used to help solve crime in forensic investigations.
Monday, January 26, 2015
New Grant Tests NGS Tools For Crime Laboratories
National Institute of Justice grant of over $800,000 will test DNA investigative tools utilizing NGS technology.
Friday, January 09, 2015
Altered Milk Protein Can Deliver AIDS Drug to Infants
Binding with an antiretroviral drug promises to greatly improve treatment for infants and young children suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Protein Changes Linked to Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease
Neuroscientists have made a research discovery that helps point the way to potential therapies for memory-related disorders.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Using Information Technology to Tackle the Root of World Hungar
Scientists are studying what the rest of us don't see--the work going on underneath the ground that enables the growth of healthier crops.
Monday, August 12, 2013
Researchers Discover Protein Changes that Control Whether a Gene Functions
A Penn State-led research team has found that changes to proteins called histones, which are associated with DNA, can control whether or not a gene is allowed to function.
Wednesday, August 07, 2013
Ultraviolet Flashes can Create Vitamin D-Enriched Mushrooms
Quick zaps of ultraviolet light can boost the vitamin D levels in mushrooms in seconds, turning the fungi into an even healthier food, according to Penn State food scientists.
Tuesday, August 06, 2013
Penn State Researchers Part of Award-Winning Africa Research Team
College of Agricultural Sciences scientists are part of a research team that recently won 2013 Africa Collaboration Challenge Prize.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Study Suggests Dairy Herd Water Quality Linked to Milk Production
A recently completed study of water supplies on Pennsylvania dairy farms found that about a quarter of those tested had at least one water-quality issue.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Environmental Law Institute Recognizes Penn State Wetlands Scientist
Robert P. Brooks, a wetlands scientist at Penn State, has received the 2013 National Wetlands Award for Science Research.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Probing Question: Do Women Dominate the Field of Forensic Science?
Women going against the stereotype in the booming field of forensic science.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Computer Simulations Reveal the Energy Landscape of Ion Channels
A team of researchers have investigated the opening and closing mechanisms of these channels: for the first time the full energy landscape of such a large protein could be calculated.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Number of Foodborne Illness Cases Largely Unchanged in U.S.
Recently released reports about the frequency of foodborne illness show that the risks have not changed much in recent years, according to an expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
Cattle Expert: New Livestock Identification Regulations Not Burdensome
The new livestock identification program recently launched by the federal government should not place a significant burden on producers in Pennsylvania or the East.
Monday, April 29, 2013
Scientific News
High Throughput Mass Spectrometry-Based Screening Assay Trends
Dr John Comley provides an insight into HT MS-based screening with a focus on future user requirements and preferences.
Revolutionary Technologies Developed to Improve Outcomes for Lung Cancer Patients
Breath test to detect lung cancer brings oxygen directly to the wound.
NIH Supports New Studies to Find Alzheimer’s Biomarkers in Down Syndrome
Initiative will track dementia onset, progress in Down syndrome volunteers.
Dementia Linked to Deficient DNA Repair
Mutant forms of breast cancer factor 1 (BRCA1) are associated with breast and ovarian cancers but according to new findings, in the brain the normal BRCA1 gene product may also be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Using Drug-Susceptible Parasites to Fight Drug Resistance
Researchers at the University of Georgia have developed a model for evaluating a potential new strategy in the fight against drug-resistant diseases.
Boosting Breast Cancer Treatment
To more efficiently treat breast cancer, scientists have been researching molecules that selectively bind to cancer cells and deliver a substance that can kill the tumor cells, for several years.
New Gene Map Reveals Cancer’s Achilles’ Heel
Team of researchers switches off almost 18,000 genes
New Discovery Sheds Light on Disease Risk
Gaps between genes interact to influence the risk of acquiring disease.
How Cells ‘Climb’ to Build Fruit Fly Tracheas
Mipp1 protein helps cells sprout “fingers” for gripping.
Research Finding Could Lead to Targeted Therapies for IBD
Findings published online in Cell Reports.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos