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 hoghlights on our Research page.

Latest News

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)

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 Jorunal's Volume 93 Issue 2 and subject of a research highlight article.

  • A rendering of cellulose

    Coarse grained representation of cellulose synthase complex with emerging microfibrils in gold. Image credit: Yara Yingling

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

  • Rainbow colored fluorescent tagged proteins

    The spatial relationship of three fluorescent protein fusions in a cell suggest that CSI proteins, which associate with cellulose synthase complexes, travel along the underlying microtubule cytoskeleton. Image credit Lei Lei and Ying Gu

  • 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.

  • A computer rendering of lignocellulose

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

  • 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.

  • 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:

  • 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

  • Tracy Nixon and Enrique Gomez

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

  • Venu at X-ray diffractometer at ORNL

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

  • Two researchers working in the CLSF lab.

    The central laboratory facility of CLFS at the University Park campus of Penn State houses specialty instruments including an atomic force microscope (AFM), which allows researchers to visualize plant cell wall architecture in the nano scale, and chromatography and spectroscopy systems to analyze proteins and sugars. Pictured are Tian Zhang (L) and Laura Ullrich.

  • molecular model illustration

    Putative molecular model of a single CESA associated with the plasma membrane. CESA has not yet been crystalized, but new ab initio computational protein folding reveals the approximate 3D CESA structure, which in turn clarifies how it functions.

  • Lei Lei looking through a microscope.

    Lei Lei and other members of the Ying Gu lab work to obtain spatial information about the cellulose synthase complexes through live imaging of plant cells with the aid of spinning disk confocal microscopy.

  • Two CLSF researchers working in the lab.

    The central laboratory facility of CLSF is utilized by many researchers; here our members can analyze plant cell wall components, observe protein-protein interactions and separate carbohydrate substances by using specialty instruments. These instruments include an Infrared and Raman spectrometer, an isothermal microcalorimeter, and an ion-exchange chromatography system, to name a few. Pictured are Liza Wilson (L) and Sarah Kiemle.

  • Two CLSF researchers working in the lab.

    Researchers in the Haigler Lab are performing cryo-fracture deep-etch transmission electron microscopy in combination with immunolabeling of particular protein constituents to explore further the composition and function of the cellulose synthesizing complex.