Lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most abundant yet underutilized renewable energy resources. Both anaerobic digestion (AD) and hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) are promising technologies for bioenergy production from biomass in terms of biogas and HTC biochar, respectively. In this study, the combination of AD and HTC is proposed to increase overall bioenergy production. Wheat straw was anaerobically digested in a novel upflow anaerobic solid state reactor (UASS) in both mesophilic (37 °C) and thermophilic (55 °C) conditions. Wet digested from thermophilic AD was hydrothermally carbonized at 230 °C for 6 hr for HTC biochar production. At thermophilic temperature, the UASS system yields an average of 165 LCH4/kgVS (VS: volatile solids) and 121 L CH4/kgVS at mesophilic AD over the continuous operation of 200 days. Meanwhile, 43.4 g of HTC biochar with 29.6 MJ/kgdry_biochar was obtained from HTC of 1 kg digestate (dry basis) from mesophilic AD. The combination of AD and HTC, in this particular set of experiment yield 13.2 MJ of energy per 1 kg of dry wheat straw, which is at least 20% higher than HTC alone and 60.2% higher than AD only.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
Preparation of Silica Nanoparticles Through Microwave-assisted Acid-catalysis
Institutions: Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, Airbase Technology Division, Clemson University.
Microwave-assisted synthetic techniques were used to quickly and reproducibly produce silica nanoparticle sols
using an acid catalyst with nanoparticle diameters ranging from 30-250 nm by varying the reaction conditions. Through the selection of a microwave compatible solvent, silicic acid precursor, catalyst, and microwave irradiation time, these microwave-assisted methods were capable of overcoming the previously reported shortcomings associated with synthesis of silica nanoparticles using microwave reactors. The siloxane precursor was hydrolyzed using the acid catalyst, HCl. Acetone, a low-tan δ
solvent, mediates the condensation reactions and has minimal interaction with the electromagnetic field. Condensation reactions begin when the silicic acid precursor couples with the microwave radiation, leading to silica nanoparticle sol
formation. The silica nanoparticles were characterized by dynamic light scattering data and scanning electron microscopy, which show the materials' morphology and size to be dependent on the reaction conditions. Microwave-assisted reactions produce silica nanoparticles with roughened textured surfaces that are atypical for silica sols
produced by Stöber's methods, which have smooth surfaces.
Chemistry, Issue 82, Chemistry, chemical manufacturing, chemistry (general), materials (general), nanocomposites, catalysts (chemical), chemistry of compounds, Chemistry and Materials (General), Composite Materials, Inorganic, Organic and Physical Chemistry, Engineering (General), Microwave, nanoparticle, silica, silicic acid, NP, SiO2, synthesis
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2
fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13
C with 15
O or 2
H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4
. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e
. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7
. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13
C and 15
N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13
C and 15
N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii
Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2
concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13
atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
Optimization and Utilization of Agrobacterium-mediated Transient Protein Production in Nicotiana
Institutions: Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology.
-mediated transient protein production in plants is a promising approach to produce vaccine antigens and therapeutic proteins within a short period of time. However, this technology is only just beginning to be applied to large-scale production as many technological obstacles to scale up are now being overcome. Here, we demonstrate a simple and reproducible method for industrial-scale transient protein production based on vacuum infiltration of Nicotiana
plants with Agrobacteria
carrying launch vectors. Optimization of Agrobacterium
cultivation in AB medium allows direct dilution of the bacterial culture in Milli-Q water, simplifying the infiltration process. Among three tested species of Nicotiana
, N. excelsiana
× N. excelsior
) was selected as the most promising host due to the ease of infiltration, high level of reporter protein production, and about two-fold higher biomass production under controlled environmental conditions. Induction of Agrobacterium
harboring pBID4-GFP (Tobacco mosaic virus
-based) using chemicals such as acetosyringone and monosaccharide had no effect on the protein production level. Infiltrating plant under 50 to 100 mbar for 30 or 60 sec resulted in about 95% infiltration of plant leaf tissues. Infiltration with Agrobacterium
laboratory strain GV3101 showed the highest protein production compared to Agrobacteria
laboratory strains LBA4404 and C58C1 and wild-type Agrobacteria
strains at6, at10, at77 and A4. Co-expression of a viral RNA silencing suppressor, p23 or p19, in N. benthamiana
resulted in earlier accumulation and increased production (15-25%) of target protein (influenza virus hemagglutinin).
Plant Biology, Issue 86, Agroinfiltration, Nicotiana benthamiana, transient protein production, plant-based expression, viral vector, Agrobacteria
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
Lignin Down-regulation of Zea mays via dsRNAi and Klason Lignin Analysis
Institutions: University of Arizona, Michigan State University, The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Michigan State University.
To facilitate the use of lignocellulosic biomass as an alternative bioenergy resource, during biological conversion processes, a pretreatment step is needed to open up the structure of the plant cell wall, increasing the accessibility of the cell wall carbohydrates. Lignin, a polyphenolic material present in many cell wall types, is known to be a significant hindrance to enzyme access. Reduction in lignin content to a level that does not interfere with the structural integrity and defense system of the plant might be a valuable step to reduce the costs of bioethanol production. In this study, we have genetically down-regulated one of the lignin biosynthesis-related genes, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (ZmCCR1
) via a double stranded RNA interference technique. The ZmCCR1_RNAi
construct was integrated into the maize genome using the particle bombardment method. Transgenic maize plants grew normally as compared to the wild-type control plants without interfering with biomass growth or defense mechanisms, with the exception of displaying of brown-coloration in transgenic plants leaf mid-ribs, husks, and stems. The microscopic analyses, in conjunction with the histological assay, revealed that the leaf sclerenchyma fibers were thinned but the structure and size of other major vascular system components was not altered. The lignin content in the transgenic maize was reduced by 7-8.7%, the crystalline cellulose content was increased in response to lignin reduction, and hemicelluloses remained unchanged. The analyses may indicate that carbon flow might have been shifted from lignin biosynthesis to cellulose biosynthesis. This article delineates the procedures used to down-regulate the lignin content in maize via RNAi technology, and the cell wall compositional analyses used to verify the effect of the modifications on the cell wall structure.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, Zea mays, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (CCR), dsRNAi, Klason lignin measurement, cell wall carbohydrate analysis, gas chromatography (GC)
Transcript and Metabolite Profiling for the Evaluation of Tobacco Tree and Poplar as Feedstock for the Bio-based Industry
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology, Royal Holloway, University of London, VIB, UGhent, ETH Zurich, EMPA, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), European Research and Project Office GmbH, ABBA Gaia S.L., Pflanzenöltechnologie, Capax Environmental Services, Green Fuels, Neutral Consulting Ltd, University of Melbourne.
The global demand for food, feed, energy, and water poses extraordinary challenges for future generations. It is evident that robust platforms for the exploration of renewable resources are necessary to overcome these challenges. Within the multinational framework MultiBioPro we are developing biorefinery pipelines to maximize the use of plant biomass. More specifically, we use poplar and tobacco tree (Nicotiana glauca
) as target crop species for improving saccharification, isoprenoid, long chain hydrocarbon contents, fiber quality, and suberin and lignin contents. The methods used to obtain these outputs include GC-MS, LC-MS and RNA sequencing platforms. The metabolite pipelines are well established tools to generate these types of data, but also have the limitations in that only well characterized metabolites can be used. The deep sequencing will allow us to include all transcripts present during the developmental stages of the tobacco tree leaf, but has to be mapped back to the sequence of Nicotiana tabacum
. With these set-ups, we aim at a basic understanding for underlying processes and at establishing an industrial framework to exploit the outcomes. In a more long term perspective, we believe that data generated here will provide means for a sustainable biorefinery process using poplar and tobacco tree as raw material. To date the basal level of metabolites in the samples have been analyzed and the protocols utilized are provided in this article.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, botany, plants, Biorefining, Poplar, Tobacco tree, Arabidopsis, suberin, lignin, cell walls, biomass, long-chain hydrocarbons, isoprenoids, Nicotiana glauca, systems biology
Expression of Recombinant Cellulase Cel5A from Trichoderma reesei in Tobacco Plants
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology.
Cellulose degrading enzymes, cellulases, are targets of both research and industrial interests. The preponderance of these enzymes in difficult-to-culture organisms, such as hyphae-building fungi and anaerobic bacteria, has hastened the use of recombinant technologies in this field. Plant expression methods are a desirable system for large-scale production of enzymes and other industrially useful proteins. Herein, methods for the transient expression of a fungal endoglucanase, Trichoderma reesei
Cel5A, in Nicotiana tabacum
are demonstrated. Successful protein expression is shown, monitored by fluorescence using an mCherry-enzyme fusion protein. Additionally, a set of basic tests are used to examine the activity of transiently expressed T. reesei
Cel5A, including SDS-PAGE, Western blotting, zymography, as well as fluorescence and dye-based substrate degradation assays. The system described here can be used to produce an active cellulase in a short time period, so as to assess the potential for further production in plants through constitutive or inducible expression systems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 88, heterologous expression, endoplasmic reticulum, endoglucanase, cellulose, glycosyl-hydrolase, fluorescence, cellulase, Trichoderma reesei, tobacco plants
Synthesis and Characterization of Functionalized Metal-organic Frameworks
Institutions: Northwestern University, Warsaw University of Technology, King Abdulaziz University.
Metal-organic frameworks have attracted extraordinary amounts of research attention, as they are attractive candidates for numerous industrial and technological applications. Their signature property is their ultrahigh porosity, which however imparts a series of challenges when it comes to both constructing them and working with them. Securing desired MOF chemical and physical functionality by linker/node assembly into a highly porous framework of choice can pose difficulties, as less porous and more thermodynamically stable congeners (e.g.
, other crystalline polymorphs, catenated analogues) are often preferentially obtained by conventional synthesis methods. Once the desired product is obtained, its characterization often requires specialized techniques that address complications potentially arising from, for example, guest-molecule loss or preferential orientation of microcrystallites. Finally, accessing the large voids inside the MOFs for use in applications that involve gases can be problematic, as frameworks may be subject to collapse during removal of solvent molecules (remnants of solvothermal synthesis). In this paper, we describe synthesis and characterization methods routinely utilized in our lab either to solve or circumvent these issues. The methods include solvent-assisted linker exchange, powder X-ray diffraction in capillaries, and materials activation (cavity evacuation) by supercritical CO2
drying. Finally, we provide a protocol for determining a suitable pressure region for applying the Brunauer-Emmett-Teller analysis to nitrogen isotherms, so as to estimate surface area of MOFs with good accuracy.
Chemistry, Issue 91, Metal-organic frameworks, porous coordination polymers, supercritical CO2 activation, crystallography, solvothermal, sorption, solvent-assisted linker exchange
Measurement of Greenhouse Gas Flux from Agricultural Soils Using Static Chambers
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center, USDA-ARS Pasture Systems Watershed Management Research Unit.
Measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes between the soil and the atmosphere, in both managed and unmanaged ecosystems, is critical to understanding the biogeochemical drivers of climate change and to the development and evaluation of GHG mitigation strategies based on modulation of landscape management practices. The static chamber-based method described here is based on trapping gases emitted from the soil surface within a chamber and collecting samples from the chamber headspace at regular intervals for analysis by gas chromatography. Change in gas concentration over time is used to calculate flux. This method can be utilized to measure landscape-based flux of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, and to estimate differences between treatments or explore system dynamics over seasons or years. Infrastructure requirements are modest, but a comprehensive experimental design is essential. This method is easily deployed in the field, conforms to established guidelines, and produces data suitable to large-scale GHG emissions studies.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, greenhouse gas, trace gas, gas flux, static chamber, soil, field, agriculture, climate
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Optimize Flue Gas Settings to Promote Microalgae Growth in Photobioreactors via Computer Simulations
Institutions: Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Wuhan University of China, Washington University in St. Louis.
Flue gas from power plants can promote algal cultivation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions1
. Microalgae not only capture solar energy more efficiently than plants3
, but also synthesize advanced biofuels2-4
. Generally, atmospheric CO2
is not a sufficient source for supporting maximal algal growth5
. On the other hand, the high concentrations of CO2
in industrial exhaust gases have adverse effects on algal physiology. Consequently, both cultivation conditions (such as nutrients and light) and the control of the flue gas flow into the photo-bioreactors are important to develop an efficient “flue gas to algae” system. Researchers have proposed different photobioreactor configurations4,6
and cultivation strategies7,8
with flue gas. Here, we present a protocol that demonstrates how to use models to predict the microalgal growth in response to flue gas settings. We perform both experimental illustration and model simulations to determine the favorable conditions for algal growth with flue gas. We develop a Monod-based model coupled with mass transfer and light intensity equations to simulate the microalgal growth in a homogenous photo-bioreactor. The model simulation compares algal growth and flue gas consumptions under different flue-gas settings. The model illustrates: 1) how algal growth is influenced by different volumetric mass transfer coefficients of CO2
; 2) how we can find optimal CO2
concentration for algal growth via the dynamic optimization approach (DOA); 3) how we can design a rectangular on-off flue gas pulse to promote algal biomass growth and to reduce the usage of flue gas. On the experimental side, we present a protocol for growing Chlorella
under the flue gas (generated by natural gas combustion). The experimental results qualitatively validate the model predictions that the high frequency flue gas pulses can significantly improve algal cultivation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Microbiology, Cellular Biology, Marine Biology, Primary Cell Culture, Chlorella, CO2, mass transfer, Monod model, On-off pulse, Simulink
Comprehensive Compositional Analysis of Plant Cell Walls (Lignocellulosic biomass) Part I: Lignin
Institutions: Michigan State University (MSU), Michigan State University (MSU).
The need for renewable, carbon neutral, and sustainable raw materials for industry and society has become one of the most pressing issues for the 21st century. This has rekindled interest in the use of plant products as industrial raw materials for the production of liquid fuels for transportation1
and other products such as biocomposite materials7
. Plant biomass remains one of the greatest untapped reserves on the planet4
. It is mostly comprised of cell walls that are composed of energy rich polymers including cellulose, various hemicelluloses (matrix polysaccharides, and the polyphenol lignin6
and thus sometimes termed lignocellulosics. However, plant cell walls have evolved to be recalcitrant to degradation as walls provide tensile strength to cells and the entire plants, ward off pathogens, and allow water to be transported throughout the plant; in the case of trees up to more the 100 m above ground level. Due to the various functions of walls, there is an immense structural diversity within the walls of different plant species and cell types within a single plant4
. Hence, depending of what crop species, crop variety, or plant tissue is used for a biorefinery, the processing steps for depolymerization by chemical/enzymatic processes and subsequent fermentation of the various sugars to liquid biofuels need to be adjusted and optimized. This fact underpins the need for a thorough characterization of plant biomass feedstocks. Here we describe a comprehensive analytical methodology that enables the determination of the composition of lignocellulosics and is amenable to a medium to high-throughput analysis. In this first part we focus on the analysis of the polyphenol lignin (Figure 1). The method starts of with preparing destarched cell wall material. The resulting lignocellulosics are then split up to determine its lignin content by acetylbromide solubilization3
, and its lignin composition in terms of its syringyl, guaiacyl- and p-hydroxyphenyl units5
. The protocol for analyzing the carbohydrates in lignocellulosic biomass including cellulose content and matrix polysaccharide composition is discussed in Part II2
Plant Biology, Issue 37, cell walls, lignin, GC-MS, biomass, compositional analysis
Comprehensive Compositional Analysis of Plant Cell Walls (Lignocellulosic biomass) Part II: Carbohydrates
Institutions: Michigan State University (MSU), Michigan State University (MSU).
The need for renewable, carbon neutral, and sustainable raw materials for industry and society has become one of the most pressing issues for the 21st century. This has rekindled interest in the use of plant products as industrial raw materials for the production of liquid fuels for transportation2
and other products such as biocomposite materials6
. Plant biomass remains one of the greatest untapped reserves on the planet4
. It is mostly comprised of cell walls that are composed of energy rich polymers including cellulose, various hemicelluloses, and the polyphenol lignin5
and thus sometimes termed lignocellulosics. However, plant cell walls have evolved to be recalcitrant to degradation as walls contribute extensively to the strength and structural integrity of the entire plant. Despite its necessary rigidity, the cell wall is a highly dynamic entity that is metabolically active and plays crucial roles in numerous cell activities such as plant growth and differentiation5
. Due to the various functions of walls, there is an immense structural diversity within the walls of different plant species and cell types within a single plant4
. Hence, depending of what crop species, crop variety, or plant tissue is used for a biorefinery, the processing steps for depolymerisation by chemical/enzymatic processes and subsequent fermentation of the various sugars to liquid biofuels need to be adjusted and optimized. This fact underpins the need for a thorough characterization of plant biomass feedstocks. Here we describe a comprehensive analytical methodology that enables the determination of the composition of lignocellulosics and is amenable to a medium to high-throughput analysis (Figure 1). The method starts of with preparing destarched cell wall material. The resulting lignocellulosics are then split up to determine its monosaccharide composition of the hemicelluloses and other matrix polysaccharides1, and its content of crystalline cellulose7
. The protocol for analyzing the lignin components in lignocellulosic biomass is discussed in Part I3
Plant Biology, Issue 37, cell walls, polysaccharide, cellulose, hemicellulose, sugar composition, GC-MS
Label-free in situ Imaging of Lignification in Plant Cell Walls
Institutions: University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Meeting growing energy demands safely and efficiently is a pressing global challenge. Therefore, research into biofuels production that seeks to find cost-effective and sustainable solutions has become a topical and critical task. Lignocellulosic biomass is poised to become the primary source of biomass for the conversion to liquid biofuels1-6
. However, the recalcitrance of these plant cell wall materials to cost-effective and efficient degradation presents a major impediment for their use in the production of biofuels and chemicals4
. In particular, lignin, a complex and irregular poly-phenylpropanoid heteropolymer, becomes problematic to the postharvest deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass. For example in biomass conversion for biofuels, it inhibits saccharification in processes aimed at producing simple sugars for fermentation7
. The effective use of plant biomass for industrial purposes is in fact largely dependent on the extent to which the plant cell wall is lignified. The removal of lignin is a costly and limiting factor8
and lignin has therefore become a key plant breeding and genetic engineering target in order to improve cell wall conversion.
Analytical tools that permit the accurate rapid characterization of lignification of plant cell walls become increasingly important for evaluating a large number of breeding populations. Extractive procedures for the isolation of native components such as lignin are inevitably destructive, bringing about significant chemical and structural modifications9-11
. Analytical chemical in situ
methods are thus invaluable tools for the compositional and structural characterization of lignocellulosic materials. Raman microscopy is a technique that relies on inelastic or Raman scattering of monochromatic light, like that from a laser, where the shift in energy of the laser photons is related to molecular vibrations and presents an intrinsic label-free molecular "fingerprint" of the sample. Raman microscopy can afford non-destructive and comparatively inexpensive measurements with minimal sample preparation, giving insights into chemical composition and molecular structure in a close to native state. Chemical imaging by confocal Raman microscopy has been previously used for the visualization of the spatial distribution of cellulose and lignin in wood cell walls12-14
. Based on these earlier results, we have recently adopted this method to compare lignification in wild type and lignin-deficient transgenic Populus trichocarpa
(black cottonwood) stem wood15
. Analyzing the lignin Raman bands16,17
in the spectral region between 1,600 and 1,700 cm-1
, lignin signal intensity and localization were mapped in situ
. Our approach visualized differences in lignin content, localization, and chemical composition. Most recently, we demonstrated Raman imaging of cell wall polymers in Arabidopsis thaliana
with lateral resolution that is sub-μm18
. Here, this method is presented affording visualization of lignin in plant cell walls and comparison of lignification in different tissues, samples or species without staining or labeling of the tissues.
Plant Biology, Issue 45, Raman microscopy, lignin, poplar wood, Arabidopsis thaliana
Modeling Neural Immune Signaling of Episodic and Chronic Migraine Using Spreading Depression In Vitro
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Migraine and its transformation to chronic migraine are healthcare burdens in need of improved treatment options. We seek to define how neural immune signaling modulates the susceptibility to migraine, modeled in vitro
using spreading depression (SD), as a means to develop novel therapeutic targets for episodic and chronic migraine. SD is the likely cause of migraine aura and migraine pain. It is a paroxysmal loss of neuronal function triggered by initially increased neuronal activity, which slowly propagates within susceptible brain regions. Normal brain function is exquisitely sensitive to, and relies on, coincident low-level immune signaling. Thus, neural immune signaling likely affects electrical activity of SD, and therefore migraine. Pain perception studies of SD in whole animals are fraught with difficulties, but whole animals are well suited to examine systems biology aspects of migraine since SD activates trigeminal nociceptive pathways. However, whole animal studies alone cannot be used to decipher the cellular and neural circuit mechanisms of SD. Instead, in vitro
preparations where environmental conditions can be controlled are necessary. Here, it is important to recognize limitations of acute slices and distinct advantages of hippocampal slice cultures. Acute brain slices cannot reveal subtle changes in immune signaling since preparing the slices alone triggers: pro-inflammatory changes that last days, epileptiform behavior due to high levels of oxygen tension needed to vitalize the slices, and irreversible cell injury at anoxic slice centers.
In contrast, we examine immune signaling in mature hippocampal slice cultures since the cultures closely parallel their in vivo
counterpart with mature trisynaptic function; show quiescent astrocytes, microglia, and cytokine levels; and SD is easily induced in an unanesthetized preparation. Furthermore, the slices are long-lived and SD can be induced on consecutive days without injury, making this preparation the sole means to-date capable of modeling the neuroimmune consequences of chronic SD, and thus perhaps chronic migraine. We use electrophysiological techniques and non-invasive imaging to measure
neuronal cell and circuit functions coincident with SD. Neural immune gene expression variables are measured with qPCR screening, qPCR arrays, and, importantly, use of cDNA preamplification for detection of ultra-low level targets such as interferon-gamma using whole, regional, or specific cell enhanced (via laser dissection microscopy) sampling. Cytokine cascade signaling is further assessed with multiplexed phosphoprotein related targets with gene expression and phosphoprotein changes confirmed via cell-specific immunostaining. Pharmacological and siRNA strategies are used to mimic
SD immune signaling.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, T-cells, hippocampus, slice culture, gene expression, laser dissection microscopy, real-time qPCR, interferon-gamma
High-throughput Saccharification Assay for Lignocellulosic Materials
Institutions: University of York.
Polysaccharides that make up plant lignocellulosic biomass can be broken down to produce a range of sugars that subsequently can be
used in establishing a biorefinery. These raw materials would constitute a new industrial platform, which is both sustainable and carbon neutral, to replace
the current dependency on fossil fuel. The recalcitrance to deconstruction observed in lignocellulosic materials is produced by several intrinsic properties
of plant cell walls. Crystalline cellulose is embedded in matrix polysaccharides such as xylans and arabinoxylans, and the whole structure is encased by the
phenolic polymer lignin, that is also difficult to digest 1
. In order to improve the digestibility of plant materials we need to discover the main bottlenecks
for the saccharification of cell walls and also screen mutant and breeding populations to evaluate the variability in saccharification 2
. These tasks require
a high throughput approach and here we present an analytical platform that can perform saccharification analysis in a 96-well plate format. This platform has
been developed to allow the screening of lignocellulose digestibility of large populations from varied plant species. We have scaled down the reaction volumes
for gentle pretreatment, partial enzymatic hydrolysis and sugar determination, to allow large numbers to be assessed rapidly in an automated system.
This automated platform works with milligram amounts of biomass, performing ball milling under controlled conditions to reduce the plant
materials to a standardised particle size in a reproducible manner. Once the samples are ground, the automated formatting robot dispenses specified and recorded
amounts of material into the corresponding wells of 96 deep well plate (Figure 1). Normally, we dispense the same material into 4 wells to have 4 replicates for
analysis. Once the plates are filled with the plant material in the desired layout, they are manually moved to a liquid handling station (Figure 2). In this
station the samples are subjected to a mild pretreatment with either dilute acid or alkaline and incubated at temperatures of up to 90°C. The pretreatment solution
is subsequently removed and the samples are rinsed with buffer to return them to a suitable pH for hydrolysis. The samples are then incubated with an enzyme
mixture for a variable length of time at 50°C. An aliquot is taken from the hydrolyzate and the reducing sugars are automatically determined by the MBTH
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, Saccharification, lignocellulose, high-throughput, glycosyl hydrolases, biomass, biofuels
Environmentally-controlled Microtensile Testing of Mechanically-adaptive Polymer Nanocomposites for ex vivo Characterization
Institutions: Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Case Western Reserve University, Case Western Reserve University.
Implantable microdevices are gaining significant attention for several biomedical applications1-4
. Such devices have been made from a range of materials, each offering its own advantages and shortcomings5,6
. Most prominently, due to the microscale device dimensions, a high modulus is required to facilitate implantation into living tissue. Conversely, the stiffness of the device should match the surrounding tissue to minimize induced local strain7-9
. Therefore, we recently developed a new class of bio-inspired materials to meet these requirements by responding to environmental stimuli with a change in mechanical properties10-14
. Specifically, our poly(vinyl acetate)-based nanocomposite (PVAc-NC) displays a reduction in stiffness when exposed to water and elevated temperatures (e.g.
body temperature). Unfortunately, few methods exist to quantify the stiffness of materials in vivo15
, and mechanical testing outside of the physiological environment often requires large samples inappropriate for implantation. Further, stimuli-responsive materials may quickly recover their initial stiffness after explantation. Therefore, we have developed a method by which the mechanical properties of implanted microsamples can be measured ex vivo
, with simulated physiological conditions maintained using moisture and temperature control13,16,17
To this end, a custom microtensile tester was designed to accommodate microscale samples13,17
with widely-varying Young's moduli (range of 10 MPa to 5 GPa). As our interests are in the application of PVAc-NC as a biologically-adaptable neural probe substrate, a tool capable of mechanical characterization of samples at the microscale was necessary. This tool was adapted to provide humidity and temperature control, which minimized sample drying and cooling17
. As a result, the mechanical characteristics of the explanted sample closely reflect those of the sample just prior to explantation.
The overall goal of this method is to quantitatively assess the in vivo
mechanical properties, specifically the Young's modulus, of stimuli-responsive, mechanically-adaptive polymer-based materials. This is accomplished by first establishing the environmental conditions that will minimize a change in sample mechanical properties after explantation without contributing to a reduction in stiffness independent of that resulting from implantation. Samples are then prepared for implantation, handling, and testing (Figure 1A
). Each sample is implanted into the cerebral cortex of rats, which is represented here as an explanted rat brain, for a specified duration (Figure 1B
). At this point, the sample is explanted and immediately loaded into the microtensile tester, and then subjected to tensile testing (Figure 1C
). Subsequent data analysis provides insight into the mechanical behavior of these innovative materials in the environment of the cerebral cortex.
Bioengineering, Issue 78, Biophysics, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Electrical Engineering, Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Nanocomposites, Electrodes, Implanted, Neural Prostheses, Micro-Electrical-Mechanical Systems, Implants, Experimental, mechanical properties (composite materials), Dynamic materials, polymer nanocomposite, Young's modulus, modulus of elasticity, intracortical microelectrode, polymers, biomaterials
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Characterization of Electrode Materials for Lithium Ion and Sodium Ion Batteries Using Synchrotron Radiation Techniques
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of Illinois at Chicago, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Haldor Topsøe A/S, PolyPlus Battery Company.
Intercalation compounds such as transition metal oxides or phosphates are the most commonly used electrode materials in Li-ion and Na-ion batteries. During insertion or removal of alkali metal ions, the redox states of transition metals in the compounds change and structural transformations such as phase transitions and/or lattice parameter increases or decreases occur. These behaviors in turn determine important characteristics of the batteries such as the potential profiles, rate capabilities, and cycle lives. The extremely bright and tunable x-rays produced by synchrotron radiation allow rapid acquisition of high-resolution data that provide information about these processes. Transformations in the bulk materials, such as phase transitions, can be directly observed using X-ray diffraction (XRD), while X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) gives information about the local electronic and geometric structures (e.g.
changes in redox states and bond lengths). In situ
experiments carried out on operating cells are particularly useful because they allow direct correlation between the electrochemical and structural properties of the materials. These experiments are time-consuming and can be challenging to design due to the reactivity and air-sensitivity of the alkali metal anodes used in the half-cell configurations, and/or the possibility of signal interference from other cell components and hardware. For these reasons, it is appropriate to carry out ex situ
on electrodes harvested from partially charged or cycled cells) in some cases. Here, we present detailed protocols for the preparation of both ex situ
and in situ
samples for experiments involving synchrotron radiation and demonstrate how these experiments are done.
Physics, Issue 81, X-Ray Absorption Spectroscopy, X-Ray Diffraction, inorganic chemistry, electric batteries (applications), energy storage, Electrode materials, Li-ion battery, Na-ion battery, X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS), in situ X-ray diffraction (XRD)
Testing Nicotine Tolerance in Aphids Using an Artificial Diet Experiment
Institutions: Cornell University.
Plants may upregulate the production of many different seconday metabolites in response to insect feeding. One of these metabolites, nicotine, is well know to have insecticidal properties. One response of tobacco plants to herbivory, or being gnawed upon by insects, is to increase the production of this neurotoxic alkaloid. Here, we will demonstrate how to set up an experiment to address this question of whether a tobacco-adapted strain of the green peach aphid, Myzus persicae, can tolerate higher levels of nicotine than the a strain of this insect that does not infest tobacco in the field.
Plant Biology, Issue 15, Annual Review, Nicotine, Aphids, Plant Feeding Resistance, Tobacco
Choice and No-Choice Assays for Testing the Resistance of A. thaliana to Chewing Insects
Institutions: Cornell University.
Larvae of the small white cabbage butterfly are a pest in agricultural settings. This caterpillar species feeds from plants in the cabbage family, which include many crops such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts etc. Rearing of the insects takes place on cabbage plants in the greenhouse. At least two cages are needed for the rearing of Pieris rapae. One for the larvae and the other to contain the adults, the butterflies. In order to investigate the role of plant hormones and toxic plant chemicals in resistance to this insect pest, we demonstrate two experiments. First, determination of the role of jasmonic acid (JA - a plant hormone often indicated in resistance to insects) in resistance to the chewing insect Pieris rapae. Caterpillar growth can be compared on wild-type and mutant plants impaired in production of JA. This experiment is considered "No Choice", because larvae are forced to subsist on a single plant which synthesizes or is deficient in JA. Second, we demonstrate an experiment that investigates the role of glucosinolates, which are used as oviposition (egg-laying) signals. Here, we use WT and mutant Arabidopsis impaired in glucosinolate production in a "Choice" experiment in which female butterflies are allowed to choose to lay their eggs on plants of either genotype. This video demonstrates the experimental setup for both assays as well as representative results.
Plant Biology, Issue 15, Annual Review, Plant Resistance, Herbivory, Arabidopsis thaliana, Pieris rapae, Caterpillars, Butterflies, Jasmonic Acid, Glucosinolates
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity