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  1. Abstract 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. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
  2. Dipyridyl molecular junctions often show intriguing conductance switching behaviors with mechanical modulations, but the mechanisms are still not completely revealed. By applying the ab initio -based adiabatic simulation method, the configuration evolution and electron transport properties of dipyridyl molecular junctions in stretching and compressing processes are systematically investigated. The numerical results reveal that the dipyridyl molecular junctions tend to form specific contact configurations during formation processes. In small electrode gaps, the pyridyls almost vertically adsorb on the second Au layers of the tip electrodes by pushing the top Au atoms aside. These specific contact configurations result in stronger molecule–electrode couplings and larger electronic incident cross-sectional areas, which consequently lead to large breaking forces and high conductance. On further elongating the molecular junctions, the pyridyls shift to the top Au atoms of the tip electrodes. The additional scattering of the top Au atoms dramatically decreases the conductance and switches the molecular junctions to the lower conductive states. Perfect cyclical conductance switches are obtained as observed in the experiments by repeatedly stretching and compressing the molecular junctions. The O atom in the side-group tends to hinder the pyridyl from adsorbing on the second Au layer and further inhibits the conductance switch of the dipyridyl molecular junction. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 3, 2024
  3. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is essential for proper body function. A high percentage of the population suffer nerve degeneration or peripheral damage. For example, over 40% of patients with diabetes or undergoing chemotherapy develop peripheral neuropathies. Despite this, there are major gaps in the knowledge of human PNS development and therefore, there are no available treatments. Familial Dysautonomia (FD) is a devastating disorder that specifically affects the PNS making it an ideal model to study PNS dysfunction. FD is caused by a homozygous point mutation in ELP1 leading to developmental and degenerative defects in the sensory and autonomic lineages. We previously employed human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) to show that peripheral sensory neurons (SNs) are not generated efficiently and degenerate over time in FD. Here, we conducted a chemical screen to identify compounds able to rescue this SN differentiation inefficiency. We identified that genipin, a compound prescribed in Traditional Chinese Medicine for neurodegenerative disorders, restores neural crest and SN development in FD, both in the hPSC model and in a FD mouse model. Additionally, genipin prevented FD neuronal degeneration, suggesting that it could be offered to patients suffering from PNS neurodegenerative disorders. We found that genipin crosslinks the extracellular matrix, increases the stiffness of the ECM, reorganizes the actin cytoskeleton, and promotes transcription of YAP-dependent genes. Finally, we show that genipin enhances axon regeneration in an in vitro axotomy model in healthy sensory and sympathetic neurons (part of the PNS) and in prefrontal cortical neurons (part of the central nervous system, CNS). Our results suggest genipin can be used as a promising drug candidate for treatment of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases, and as a enhancer of neuronal regeneration. 
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