Great Lakes Bioenergy research consistently results in new discoveries and new technologies. Here, we highlight high-impact research from all three of our research areas.
GLBRC researchers used small organic thiols (sulfur-containing compounds) to mimic enzymes from wood-digesting bacteria in an attempt to cleave the β-O-4 bond, the most common linkage in lignin. This thiol-based strategy could be a viable way to break down lignin and enable further processing to turn it into valuable chemicals and other bioproducts.
GLBRC researchers modeled soil carbon changes in switchgrass plantings in Midwestern experimental sites with varied soil composition under three climate change scenarios. Their findings suggest that switchgrass-derived biofuels can lead to a net decrease in carbon emissions. However, the size of this carbon benefit will be affected by climate parameters as well as plant biomass production and soil characteristics.
GLBRC researchers identified the genes responsible for xyloglucan synthesis in Arabidopsis and showed that, surprisingly, xyloglucan is not necessary for plant growth and development. These results raise important questions regarding cell wall structure and its reorganization during growth.
GLBRC scientists measured the growth and nitrogen cycling of 12 cultivated varieties of switchgrass to understand the strategies that different cultivars use to acquire and conserve nitrogen. Results suggest substantial nitrogen cycle differences in switchgrass that could be harnessed to create new or improved high-yielding, nitrogen-conserving cultivars.
GLBRC researchers have deciphered the biosynthesis of particular furan fatty acids in two species of α-proteobacteria by identifying the genes necessary and sufficient for the production of these furan fatty acids. Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy were used to identify the chemical structures of the products and intermediates of this pathway, and isotopic studies were conducted to determine the source of the oxygen atom in these furan fatty acids.
Ammonia fiber expansion (AFEX) is a pretreatment that uses heat and chemical energy to break down plant cell walls and allow enzymes easier access to convert the sugar polymers inside into sugars, which can be subsequently converted into fuels and chemicals. Scientists at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) have developed a standard operating procedure for performing AFEX pretreatment of bioenergy crops that can be safely applied at a lab-scale.
Over the course of eight years, researchers at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) assessed the carbon emissions associated with using various bioenergy crops for ethanol or electric-powered vehicles and compared them to petroleum.
Selecting the right solvent system to achieve product separation is often time-consuming and laborious. To alleviate that experimental burden, GLBRC researchers used computational methods to quickly and accurately identify optimal solvent systems for the liquid−liquid extraction of desired lignin monomers produced by four currently used depolymerization strategies.
Disease resistance in plants varies across populations and may be affected by changes in their environment. Researchers at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) studied one such disease in switchgrass—rust—to understand the genetic and environmental factors underlying the variation of switchgrass rust resistance.
Machine learning (ML) is a powerful tool for finding and analyzing relationships in large, complex biological datasets. ML works by identifying patterns in data and using those patterns to create models that can make predictions about new data. Although powerful, ML models cannot be easily understood by humans due to their complexity. Luckily, strategies to demystify the logic of ML models are available and continually improving.