Kang, Xue, Alex Kirui, Malitha C. Dickwella Widanage, Frederic Mentink-Vigier, Daniel J. Cosgrove, and Tuo Wang. “Lignin-Polysaccharide Interactions in Plant Secondary Cell Walls Revealed by Solid-State NMR.” Nature Communications 10, no. 1 (December 2019): 347.
Lignin is a complex aromatic biopolymer that strengthens and waterproofs plant secondary cell walls, enabling mechanical stability in trees and long-distance water transport in xylem. Lignin removal is a key step in paper production and biomass conversion to biofuels, motivating efforts to re-engineer lignin biosynthesis. However, the physical nature of lignin’s interactions with wall polysaccharides is not well understood. Here we show that lignin selfaggregates to form highly hydrophobic and dynamically unique nanodomains, with extensive surface contacts to xylan. Solid-state NMR spectroscopy of intact maize stems, supported by dynamic nuclear polarization, reveals that lignin has abundant electrostatic interactions with the polar motifs of xylan. Lignin preferentially binds xylans with 3-fold or distorted 2-fold helical screw conformations, indicative of xylans not closely associated with cellulose. These findings advance our knowledge of the molecular-level organization of lignocellulosic biomass, providing the structural foundation for optimization of post-harvest processing for biofuels and biomaterials.