Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation

Our Mission

CLSF (Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation) is a DOE Energy Frontiers Research Center focused on developing a detailed understanding of lignocellulose, the main structural material in plants, from cellulose synthesis and fibril formation to a mature plant cell wall, forming a foundation for significant advancement in sustainable energy and materials.

> Read more about our latest research news on our News page, see our most recent publications and one page highlights on our Research page.

Latest News

Herringbone pattern in plant cell walls critical to cell growth: Penn State News highlighted a new research study from the CLSF which investigated the protein CSI1, found that the alternating directionality of layers in a plant cell wall are critical for cell growth. The researchers, which include a collaboration between Penn State’s Cosgrove and Gu groups and Oak Ridge National Lab, believe that CSI1 and the crossed-polylamellate wall structure are critical to the elongation of cells and suggest that existing theories about cell growth are incomplete. The study has been published in the Journal of Experimental Botany. (February 7, 2020)

Comparison of microfibril organization in wild type and csi1-3 mutant

CLSF's James Kubicki discussed honing models on cellulose synthesis and the strength of working in a group of scientists with mixed backgrounds and specialties in the article Inspiration, Not Imitation: Chemists with Energy Research Centers design molecules for natural function in the Summer 2019 Frontiers in Energy Research Newsletter. Since our group started with a good number of scientist that had never worked on the topic of plant cell walls, and continues to add member scientists outside this field, "[We] came in without having the prejudices and biases that people had from reading the literature from the past thirty years... We challenged many of the fundamental assumptions,” Kubicki said, “and one of those was the size of the cellulose microfibril.” Read the full article here

(July 12, 2019)

A video about the rewards and challenges of working on our cell wall research was created by a team of our early career scientists at Penn State (Sintu Rongpipi, Dr. Deborah Petrik, and Lynnicia Massenburg) - watch it here:

(June 18, 2019)

Mother Nature Does It Better: The Frontiers in Energy Research Newsletter (Fall 2018) featured an article written by one of CLSF's senior PhD candidates at Penn State University, Amin Makerem. This article discusses some advantages and challenges of incorporating biology into the science of energy which several of the EFRCs, including CLSF are undertaking.

Here is an excerpt from the article: "Researchers in CLSF are trying to unravel the process of cellulose formation and growth in plant cell walls... Scientists struggle to get the answers they want because of limitations in characterization technologies, as complex structures are hard to unravel at the atomic level (and biologocal systems have their own environmental sensitivities)... Researchers at CLSF find themselves on the front line to tackle these challenges, and they often invent the technology required for deepening their knowledge on a particular biological process through technological advancements in spectroscopy, microscopy, gene modification, modeling, and reconstitution of biological processes from isolated components."

(December 5, 2018)

Frontiers in Energy Research Newletter banner with sky and sun

Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation funding renewed: CLSF has once again had its funding renewed by the DOE for an additional four years: one of only nine Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) nationwide recommended for a four-year renewal. U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced $100 million in funding for 42 EFRCs to accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to strengthen U.S. economic leadership and energy security.

Read Penn State's press release about the funding renewal

(June 29, 2018)

A pioneering study based on high-resolution scanning electron microscopy and novel nanogold tags to resolve xyloglucan conformations and locations at the nanoscale within complex cell walls. The results help us refine our models of growing cell walls and the role of matrix-cellulose interactions. This article Zheng et al. 2018 (The Plant Journal 93(2): 211–226) was featured as the cover image of The Plant Journal's Volume 93 Issue 2 and subject of a research highlight article.

  • Ten Hundred and One Word Challenge Winner: Powering your car with sun light
    The Ten Hundred and One Word Challenge invited the 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) to represent their science in images and words, but any descriptions or words could only use the 1000 most commonly used words in the English language, with the addition of one word important to each of the EFRCs and the mission of DOE: energy. Thirty-one teams took up the challenge, and submitted a diverse array of highly creative and visually captivating entries that told the story of the innovative, ground-breaking science performed in the EFRCs. The Office of Science chose the CLSF's submission "Powering your car with sun light" as the overall winner.
    View CLSF Winning Entry - small version | large version (July 18, 2013)
  • Last Updated February 27, 2020
  • model of cellulose synthase active site

    Model of cellulose synthase (purple) in complex with a cellulose chain (green) in the transmembrane channel and an UDP-glucose molecule in the active site. Image credit: Hui Yang, Penn State

  • cartoon of cellulse synthase complex rosette spanning plasma membrane

    Representation of the membrane-spanning cellulose synthases (blue) within a rosette cellulose synthase complex (CSC) embedded in the plasma membrane bilayer (orange). The membrane is cut away to reveal one of six lobes in face view. The catalytic domain is in the cytoplasm of the cell. Nixon et al. 2016

  • Tracy Nixon and Enrique Gomez

    Tracy Nixon and Enrique Gomez discuss implications of the latest cell wall research at our annual full member retreat.

  • Microfibrils in sequential lamaellae visualized by Atomic Force Microscopy

    Colors help visualize orientation of microfibrils in onion cell wall surfaces after superficial lamellae are sequentially removed with enzyme, revealing the microfibrils in underlying lamellae. Zhang et al. 2019 Plant Journal

  • Joseph Cho and Purushotham Pallinti discuss research at poster session

    Sung Hyun (Joseph) Cho (Penn State) and Purushotham Pallinti (University of Virginia) meet and discuss their latest research at our annual conference.

  • Photo of Yunzhen Zhneg preparing cell wall samples in the lab

    Onion epithelial peels are prepared by technologist Yunzhen Zheng to be examined with electron microscopy.

  • A computer rendering of lignocellulose

    A digitally rendered illustration of the lignocellulose matrix based on current models. Image credit: Thomas Splettstößer,

  • Researchers using SFG vibrartion spectroscopy

    Yong Bum Park and Chris Lee of the Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation are utilizing sum-frequency-generation (SFG) vibration spectroscopy to selectively detect crystalline cellulose in lignocellulosic matierals.

  • Arielle Chaves at lab bench

    Arielle Chaves undertakes a series of CESA domain swap and site-directed mutagenesis experiments in Physcomitrella patens in the Roberts lab at University of Rhode Island.

  • Artistic computer rendering of cellulose synthesis

    CLSF's Poetry of Science entry "Afterlife of a photon" describes the journey of a photon who finds itself trapped in cellulose. Image credit: Jochen Zimmer

  • Venu at X-ray diffractometer at ORNL

    Postdoc Venu Vandavasi mounts protein crystals for data collection on X-ray diffractometer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

  • magazine cover.

    A very approachable Penn State Research article highlights the research of several CLSF researchers at Penn State: "The key to efficient biofuels may lie in learning how plants build their cell wall." Full story:

  • Figure 4E of Nixon et la 2016 Scientific Reports

    Spatial comparison of computational predictions of cellulose synthase glycosyltransferase oligomers centered manually on an electrograph of the lobes of a rosette cellulose synthase complex (CSC) supports a trimeric oligomer. Nixon et al. 2016