Visualizing Chemical Functionality in Plant Cell Walls

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108 Scopus Citations


Understanding plant cell wall cross-linking chemistry and polymeric architecture is key to the efficient utilization of biomass in all prospects from rational genetic modification to downstream chemical and biological conversion to produce fuels and value chemicals. In fact, the bulk properties of cell wall recalcitrance are collectively determined by its chemical features over a wide range of length scales from tissue, cellular to polymeric architectures. Microscopic visualization of cell walls from the nanometer to the micrometer scale offers an in situ approach to study their chemical functionality considering its spatial and chemical complexity, particularly the capabilities of characterizing biomass non-destructively and in real-time during conversion processes. Microscopic characterization has revealed heterogeneity in the distribution of chemical features, which would otherwise be hidden in bulk analysis. Key microscopic features include cell wall type, wall layering, and wall composition - especially cellulose and lignin distributions. Microscopic tools, such as atomic force microscopy, stimulated Raman scattering microscopy, and fluorescence microscopy, have been applied to investigations of cell wall structure and chemistry from the native wall to wall treated by thermal chemical pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis. While advancing our current understanding of plant cell wall recalcitrance and deconstruction, microscopic tools with improved spatial resolution will steadily enhance our fundamental understanding of cell wall function.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number263
Number of pages16
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s).

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-70484


  • Atomic force microscopy
  • Bioenergy
  • Biomass recalcitrance
  • Cell wall imaging
  • Fluorescence
  • Fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy
  • Lignocellulosic biomass
  • Plant cell wall
  • Stimulated Raman scattering


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