A Biological Nanomachine at Work: Watching the Cellulosome Degrade Crystalline Cellulose

Manuel Eibinger, Thomas Ganner, Harald Plank*, Bernd Nidetzky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The cellulosome is a supramolecular multienzymatic protein complex that functions as a biological nanomachine of cellulosic biomass degradation. How the megadalton-size cellulosome adapts to a solid substrate is central to its mechanism of action and is also key for its efficient use in bioconversion applications. We report time-lapse visualization of crystalline cellulose degradation by individual cellulosomes from Clostridium thermocellum by atomic force microscopy. Upon binding to cellulose, the cellulosomes switch to elongated, even filamentous shapes and morph these dynamically at below 1 min time scale according to requirements of the substrate surface under attack. Compared with noncomplexed cellulases that peel off material while sliding along crystalline cellulose surfaces, the cellulosomes remain bound locally for minutes and remove the material lying underneath. The consequent roughening up of the surface leads to an efficient deconstruction of cellulose nanocrystals both from the ends and through fissions within. Distinct modes of cellulose nanocrystal deconstruction by nature's major cellulase systems are thus revealed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)739-746
Number of pages8
JournalACS Central Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)

Fields of Expertise

  • Advanced Materials Science

Treatment code (Nähere Zuordnung)

  • Basic - Fundamental (Grundlagenforschung)

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