Genomic Science Program
U.S. Department of Energy | Office of Science | Biological and Environmental Research Program

Understanding the Role of Lignin in Native Architecture of Engineered Plant Cell Walls via Multi-Dimensional Solid-State NMR


Yu Gao1,2* (, Andrew Lipton3, Dylan Murray4, Aymerick Eudes1,2, Henrik Scheller1,2,5, Jenny Mortimer1,2,6, and Jay D. Keasling1,2,5


1Joint BioEnergy Institute; 2Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; 3Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory; 4University of California–Davis; 5University of California; and 6University of Adelaide



The vision of Joint Bioenergy Institute (JBEI) is that bioenergy crops can be converted into economically viable, carbon-neutral, biofuels and renewable chemicals currently derived from petroleum, and many other bioproducts that cannot be efficiently produced from petroleum.


As a major component (∼30%) of the plant secondary cell wall, lignin is a promising renewable feedstock for the production of platform chemicals due to its high aromaticity. However, the heterogeneity of the lignin structure leads to biomass recalcitrance, which significantly impedes the efficiency of total biomass conversion in a biorefinery context. Researchers propose that understanding how lignin interacts with the other major cell wall components (i.e., cellulose and hemicellulose) and contributes to the 3D cell wall nanoarchitecture will provide invaluable insights into the nature of biomass recalcitrance. This, in turn, will support the successful engineering of bioenergy crops with optimized biomass, which can be fully deconstructed and valorized into biobased products. These studies employ multi-dimensional solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (ssNMR), including one-dimensional cross-polarization and direct polarization, two-dimensional refocused Incredible Natural Abundance Double Quantum Transfer Experiment (INADEQUATE) and Proton Driven Spin Diffusion (PDSD), and spin-lattice relaxation time measurements, to monitor the native polymer arrangements in the intact secondary cell walls of engineered plants with reduced recalcitrance traits. Here researchers will present data on the arrangement of cell wall polymers in model and crop species with reduced lignin. Researchers use this information to understand factors underlying cell wall properties, and to support predictive cell wall design and biomass deconstruction.


Gao, Y., et al. 2020. “A Grass-Specific Cellulose–Xylan Interaction Dominates in Sorghum Secondary Cell Walls.” Nature Communications 11, 6081. DOI:

Gao, Y., et al. In review. “Elongated Galactan Side-Chains Mediate Cellulose-Pectin Interactions in Engineered Arabidopsis Secondary Cell Walls.”

Funding Information

This work was conducted as part of the DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute ( supported by the U. S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, through contract DE-AC02-05CH11231 between Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the U. S. Department of Energy. Part of this work was conducted by the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (grid.436923.9), a DOE Office of Science scientific user facility sponsored by the Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research and located at PNNL under contract DE-AC05-76RL01830.