Fine structure in cellulose microfibrils: NMR evidence from onion and quince

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It has been controversial for many years whether in the cellulose of higher plants, the microfibrils are aggregates of 'elementary fibrils', which have been suggested to be about 3.5 nm in diameter. Solid-state NMR spectroscopy was used to examine two celluloses whose fibril diameters had been established by electron microscopy: onion (8-10 nm, but containing 40% of xyloglucan as well as cellulose) and quince (2 nm cellulose core). Both of these forms of cellulose contained crystalline units of similar size, as estimated from the ratio of surface to interior chains, and the time required for proton magnetisation to diffuse from the surface to the interior. It is suggested that the onion microfibrils must therefore be constructed from a number of cellulose subunits 2 nm in diameter, smaller than the 'elementary fibrils' envisaged previously. The size of these subunits would permit a hexagonal arrangement resembling the cellulose synthase complex.

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