Single-molecular insights into the breakpoint of cellulose nanofibers assembly during saccharification
Plant cellulose microfibrils are increasingly employed to produce functional nanofibers and nanocrystals for biomaterials, but their catalytic formation and conversion mechanisms remain elusive. Here, we characterize length-reduced cellulose nanofibers assembly in situ accounting for the high density of amorphous cellulose regions in the natural rice fragile culm 16 (Osfc16) mutant defective in cellulose biosynthesis using both classic and advanced atomic force microscopy (AFM) techniques equipped with a single-molecular recognition system. By employing individual types of cellulases, we observe efficient enzymatic catalysis modes in the mutant, due to amorphous and inner-broken cellulose chains elevated as breakpoints for initiating and completing cellulose hydrolyses into higher-yield fermentable sugars. Furthermore, effective chemical catalysis mode is examined in vitro for cellulose nanofibers conversion into nanocrystals with reduced dimensions. Our study addresses how plant cellulose substrates are digestible and convertible, revealing a strategy for precise engineering of cellulose substrates toward cost-effective biofuels and high-quality bioproducts.