Microscopic Analysis of Corn Fiber Using Corn Starch- and Cellulose-Specific Molecular Probes

Stephanie Porter, Bryon Donohoe, Kyle Beery, Qi Xu, Shi-You Ding, Todd Vinzant, Charles Abbas, Michael Himmel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ethanol is the primary liquid transportation fuel produced from renewable feedstocks in the United States today. The majority of corn grain, the primary feedstock for ethanol production, has been historically processed in wet mills yielding products such as gluten feed, gluten meal, starch, and germ. Starch extracted from the grain is used to produce ethanol in saccharification and fermentation steps; however the extraction of starch is not 100% efficient. To better understand starch extraction during the wet milling process, we have developed fluorescent probes that can be used to visually localize starch and cellulose in samples using confocal microscopy. These probes are based on the binding specificities of two types of carbohydrate binding modules (CBMs), which are small substrate-specific protein domains derived from carbohydrate degrading enzymes. CBMs were fused, using molecular cloning techniques, to a green fluorescent protein (GFP) or to the red fluorescent protein DsRed (RFP). Using these engineered probes, we found that the binding of the starch-specific probe correlates with starch content in corn fiber samples. We also demonstrate that there is starch internally localized in the endosperm that may contribute to the high starch content in corn fiber. We also surprisingly found that the cellulose-specific probe did not bind to most corn fiber samples, but only to corn fiber that had been hydrolyzed using a thermochemical process that removes the residual starch and much of the hemicellulose. Our findings should be of interest to those working to increase the efficiency of the corn grain to ethanol process.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)123-131
Number of pages9
JournalBiotechnology and Bioengineering
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2007

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-270-40468


  • carbohydrate-binding module
  • cellulose
  • corn fiber
  • fluorescent probe
  • microscopy
  • starch


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