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"Our economy relies on ethanol, so it's fascinating that we haven't had a full and more precise understanding of the molecular structure of corn until now," said LSU Department of Chemistry Assistant Professor Tuo Wang, who led this study that will be published on Jan. 21 in Nature Communications. "Currently, almost all gasoline contains about 10 percent ethanol. One-third of all corn production in the U.S., which is about 5 billion bushels annually, is used for ethanol production. Even if we can finally improve ethanol production efficiency by 1 or 2 percent, it could provide a significant benefit to society."
Wang and colleagues are the first to investigate an intact corn plant stalk at the atomic level using high-resolution techniques. The LSU team includes Postdoctoral Researcher Xue Kang and two graduate students, Malitha Dickwella Widanage from Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Alex Kirui from Nakuru, Kenya.
Cellulose - Thick - Carbohydrate - Scaffold - Corn
It has been previously thought that cellulose, a thick and rigid complex carbohydrate that acts like a scaffold in corn and other plants, connected directly to a waterproof polymer called lignin. However, Wang and colleagues discovered that lignin has limited contact with cellulose inside a plant. Instead, the wiry complex carbohydrate called xylan connects cellulose and lignin as the glue.
It has also been previously thought that the cellulose, lignin and xylan molecules are mixed, but the scientists discovered that they each have separate domains and these domains perform separate functions.
Findings - Textbook - Wang
"I was surprised. Our findings actually go against the textbook," Wang said.
Lignin with its waterproof properties is a key structural component in plants. Lignin...
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