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.

In the News

The editorial team of Nature Plants chose to highlight CLSF’s latest research publication (Temple et al. 2022) in their research briefing “Shutting the door on polysaccharide methylation". “Most polysaccharide biosynthesis and some modifications, including methylation, occur in the Golgi body. Thus, identifying potential transporters of SAM into the Golgi is important for understanding the role of pectin modifications in cell wall structure and function.”   (June 2022)

Collaboration Takes Down Walls: A team of our early career researchers created a beautiful graphic depicting "Science in the Time of Covid". The background of each green plant "cell" in a stylized Zoom call is an image taken from the research performed by the corresponding researcher during the time of COVID, representing diverse approaches such as cryo electron microscopy, coarse-grained and atomistic modeling, super-resolution fluorescence microscopy, genetic engineering, cell wall regeneration, nanogold labeling and SEM imaging. The Department of Energy acknowledged our artwork entry "Open Cell Walls of Communication" with a Special Award Collaboration Takes Down Walls. If you want to see how the other DOE research centers described performing science during the COVID pandemic, see the entries at  (October 2021)

A plant cell wall’s unique ability to expand without weakening or breaking—a quality required for plant growth—is due the movement of its cellulose skeleton, according to new research that models the cell wall. The new model, created by Penn State CLSF researchers, reveals that chains of cellulose bundle together within the cell wall, providing strength, and slide against each other when the cell is stretched, providing extensibility. The new study, which appears online May 14 in the journal Science, presents a new concept of the plant cell wall, gives insights into plant cell growth, and could provide inspiration for the design of polymeric materials with new properties. Read PSU news coverage and watch a short video that demostrates the dynamics during stretching. (May 14, 2021)

Cellulose Synthase has been featured as "Molecule of the Month" on PDB-101, an Educational portal of RCSB Protein Data Bank.  A gorgeous image of cellulose synthase based on the crystallography structure submitted by the Zimmer CLSF group (Purushotham et al. 2020, Science) was created by molecular artist David S. Goodsell.  This highlight by Goodsell also includes a striking artistic representation of a plant cell wall. (February 2021)

Research led by Enrique Gomez and Esther Gomez at Penn State has identified, for the first time, that cellulose crystals have a preferred orientation relative to the cell wall in plants and may be due to some common consequence of how plants make their cell walls. These findings published in September in Nature Communications may help settle a long-standing debate in the cellulose field — whether crystals within plant cell walls twist — because heaving a preferred orientation suggests that crystals aren't twisting.  These findings came as a result of applying a technique called grazing-incidence wide-angle X-ray scattering (GIWAXS) “developed for materials science and used extensively for the study of thin films, including polymer films” to the study of plant cell walls. Read PSU news story (November 17, 2020)

CLSF researchers at the University of Virginia determined the structure of a cellulose synthase CesA homotrimer which enables structural insights into the unique nanomachinery used by plants to form cellulose chains and microfibrils from sugar monomers. It provides a detailed entry point for investigating how the enzyme works, how three of the enzymes assemble into trimeric subunits, and how six of the subunits assemble into the cellulose synthesis complex which makes the cellulose microfibril.  The Zimmer group published this structure of a poplar cellulose synthase CesA homotrimer in Science (Purushotham et al 2020). Read more about the relevance of these findings on how plant make cell walls.  (July 9, 2020)

Dr. Tuo Wang, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Louisiana State University, and an alumni of CLSF from the Hong lab at MIT, is joining CLSF as a senior investigator with LSU as a partner institution.  His research employs solid-state NMR and Dynamic Nuclear Polarization (DNP) methods to understand the structure and packing of lignin and polysaccharides in secondary plant cell walls.  Dr. Wang recently received the DOE Early Career Award to support his group's research elucidating lignin-carbohydrate interactions in plant secondary cell walls.  (June 2020)

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

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)

  • Last Updated June 30, 2022
  • artistic image of trimer of plant cellulose synthase protein complex

    “A Trimer of Plant Synthase Protein Complex” designed by Dr. Abhishek Singh, is a beautiful crossover between science and art. This image is based the developed in silico structure of the plant cellulose synthase.

  • Open Cell Walls of Communication - CLSF's graphic artwork illustrating Science in the time of Covid

    Open Cell Walls of Communication - a graphic depiction of "Science in the Time of Covid". The background of each green ‘cell’ in this stylized Zoom call is an image taken from the research performed by the corresponding researcher during the time of COVID. Pictured are Henry Temple, Arielle Chaves, Yao Zang, Ellen Zelinsky, Lynnicia Massenburg, Sarah Pfaff, Oliver Terrett, Yunzhen Zheng, Sydney Duncombe, Mica Pitcher, Albert Kwansa, Purushotham Pallinti

  • 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

  • Tracy Nixon and Enrique Gomez

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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • Atomic Force Microscopy Reveals Distinctive Patterns of Cellulose Microfibril Motions after Cell Wall Loosening

    Atomic force microscopy reveals distinctive patterns of cellulose microfibril motions after cell wall loosening: simultaneous nanomechanical mapping reveal changes in tensile stresses, which were borne by both microfibrils and matrix. Zhang et al. 2017 Nature Plants.

  • 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,

  • 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

  • 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

  • Researchers using SFG vibrartion spectroscopy

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