Research highlight

Cellulases team up

Nature Chemical Biology

April 8, 2013

Advanced imaging techniques show that when enzymes that degrade cellulose work together, they are more efficient, according to a paper published online this week at Nature Chemical Biology. These findings provide new strategies for biomass degradation, as well as methodologies to study these challenging systems.

Plant cell walls are composed of cellulose, a carbohydrate-based polymer, which provides stiffness to the plant and accounts for approximately one-third of plant material. Cellulose is also the primary substrate for biomass conversion, by which plants can be potentially turned into fuels and other chemicals. However, the stiffness of this material also makes it difficult to study using traditional techniques, and has limited our understanding of cellulases-the enzymes that break it down.

To better understand how cellulases work, Harvey Blanch, Jan Liphardt, Douglas Clark and colleagues used the PALM imaging technique to see how the enzymes were organized on the cellulose.PALM imaging provides more specific information than previous microscopy studies because it is able to determine locations at resolutions below the wavelength of light.By comparing the locations of different enzymes and determining the extent to which pairs of these enzymes are able to degrade the cellulose, the authors identify optimal ways to pair enzymes for future experiments and biotechnological applications.

doi: 10.1038/nchembio.1227

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