Background: Lignin, the second most abundant biopolymer on earth, plays a major structural role in plants, conferring mechanical strength and regulating water conduction. Understanding the three-dimensional structure of lignin is important for fundamental reasons as well as engineering plants towards lignin valorization. Lignin lacks a specific primary sequence, making its average chemical composition the focus of most recent studies. However, it remains unclear whether the 3D structure of lignin molecules depends on their sequence.
Methods: We performed all-atom molecular dynamics simulation of three S/G-lignin molecules with the same average composition but different sequence.
Results: A detailed statistical analysis of the radius of gyration and relative shape anisotropy reveals that the lignin sequence has no statistically significant effect on the global three-dimensional structure. We found however, that homopolymers of C-lignin with the same molecular weight have smaller radii of gyration than S/G-lignin. We attribute this to lower hydroxyl content of C-lignin, which makes it more compact and rigid.
Conclusions: The 3D structure of lignin is influenced by the overall content of monomeric units and interunit linkages and not by its precise primary sequence.
General Significance: Lignin is assumed to not have a well-defined primary structure. The results presented here demonstrate there are no significant differences in the global 3D structure of lignin molecules with the same average composition but different primary sequence.