In bark, non-lignified ground tissue surrounds the lignified fibre bundles which have been traditionally isolated by long-lasting retting or faster chemical treatments. Postdoctoral researcher Dr. Dou Jinze from Aalto University visited the State Key Laboratory of Microbial Technology (Shandong University, China) to investigate possible enzymatic strategies of segregating sclerenchyma fibre bundles from willow bark.
Photograph of Prof. Zhao Jian, Prof. Qu Yinbo, and Dou Jinze.
During this visit, it was demonstrated how pure sclerenchyma fibre bundles and pectins can be simultaneously enzimatically segregated from willow bark under mild conditions. This was accomplished by using pectin degrading enzymes, which were tailor-made according to the structural features of the willow bark pectin. Surprisingly, the customized pectinases were not only able to fully separate the fibre bundles but also to preserve their unique functionalities. This unexpected discovery paves the way for industrial valorization of the underappreciated pectin-rich bark biomass without any chemical treatment. Most likely the knowledge and concept discovered during this research visit could be applied for the bark of other wood species. Because biochemical processes do not require high temperature and expensive chemical recovery processes, they could be integrated with relatively small effort in the pulp industry.