By Jenice Con Foo, Ph.D.
Conversion of cellulose to bioethanol has huge potential to significantly impact the global energy crisis for the better, helping to enable a shift away from fossil fuel dependency. It is an important problem to solve in the context of the global economy and climate change. Additionally, the capacity to use waste cellulose to create biofuel would represent significant progress toward a zero-waste society.
The Hancock lab’s approach to understanding cellulases builds on their previous work on kinesin, a motor protein present in all animal, plant, and fungi cells. Kinesin motors move along protein tracks, called microtubules, inside of cells. For instance, in neurons, proteins and other molecules are often packaged into membrane-coated vesicles, to which the motors attach and then “walk” along the microtubules to deliver their cargo. This processive walking of kinesin on microtubules can be observed under a microscope.
The Hancock lab previously built an interferometric scattering (iSCAT) microscope based around Mad City Labs’ RM21 MicroMirror TIRF microscope, which they used to track kinesin motors at 1000 Hz frame rates. The team next designed and built a microscope they called “Scattirstorm.” It includes interferometric scattering (iSCAT), total internal reflection (TIRF), and stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) modalities in one instrument.