New insight into overcoming plant recalcitrance. Small-angle neutron scattering and supercomputing reveal a pathway to significantly improve the production of renewable biofuels and bioproducts. An organic solvent (yellow) and water (blue) will eventually separate and form nanoclusters on the hydrophobic and hydrophilic sections of plant material (green), driving the efficient deconstruction of biomass. [Courtesy Oak Ridge National Laboratory]
Like small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) is used to study ensemble structures of biological materials of any morphology over a wide range of length scales. SANS, however, can take advantage of the very different neutron scattering cross-sections of hydrogen and deuterium (D), making it possible to selectively highlight different components within a complex system. In combination with H2O/D2O contrast variation and D-labeling techniques, SANS provides unique information about complexes of biomolecules and hierarchical structures (~1–500 nm) in solution or in situ. Ultra-SANS extends the accessible length scales to several microns. Time-resolved SANS experiments can also be conducted for kinetic studies, with timescales typically longer than for SAXS (seconds to minutes).
Envelope structure and scattering properties of Bacillus subtilis. SANS reveals the structure and composition of the cell envelope of a living B. subtilis cell. From top to bottom: orange S-layer proteins cover the cell wall (brown), blue lipids largely comprise the cell membrane, and the underlying cytoplasm contains proteins (orange) and nucleic acids (shades of green). [From Nickels, J. D., et al. 2017. “The in vivo structure of biological membranes and evidence for lipid domains.” PLOS Biology 15(5), e2002214. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2002214]. Reused under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 4.0).]
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Nickels, J. D., et al. 2017. "The in vivo structure of biological membranes and evidence for lipid domains," PLOS Biology 15(5), e2002214. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2002214.
Pingali, S.V., et al. 2020. “Deconstruction of biomass enabled by local demixing of cosolvents at cellulose and lignin surfaces,” PNAS 117(29), 16776-81. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1922883117.
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