Bundling of cellulose microfibrils in native and PEG-containing wood cell walls revealed by SANS

Paavo A. Penttilä, Michael Altgen, Muhammad Awais, Monika Österberg, Lauri Rautkari & Ralf Schweins

Scientific Reports, 2020, 10, 20844

Abstract: Wood and other plant-based resources provide abundant, renewable raw materials for a variety of applications. Nevertheless, their utilization would greatly benefit from more efficient and accurate methods to characterize the detailed nanoscale architecture of plant cell walls. Non-invasive techniques such as neutron and X-ray scattering hold a promise for elucidating the hierarchical cell wall structure and any changes in its morphology, but their use is hindered by challenges in interpreting the experimental data. We used small-angle neutron scattering in combination with contrast variation by poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) to identify the scattering contribution from cellulose microfibril bundles in native wood cell walls. Using this method, mean diameters for the microfibril bundles from 12 to 19 nm were determined, without the necessity of cutting, drying or freezing the cell wall. The packing distance of the individual microfibrils inside the bundles can be obtained from the same data. This finding opens up possibilities for further utilization of small-angle scattering in characterizing the plant cell wall nanostructure and its response to chemical, physical and biological modifications or even in situ treatments. Moreover, our results give new insights into the interaction between PEG and the wood nanostructure, which may be helpful for preservation of archaeological woods.

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