The step forward follows research by the Univs. of Warwick and Cambridge and the unexpected discovery of a previously unknown arrangement of molecules in plant cell walls.
The researchers investigated the polymer xylan, which comprises a third of wood matter.
Prof. Ray Dupree from the Univ. of Warwick, one of the research’s authors, says: “Using advanced NMR techniques we found that the xylan polymer, which comprises about a third of wood, has an unexpected shape inside the plant cell walls”.
The structure of the xylan was ascertained by creating 2-D maps of the molecular structure of the woody stalks of thale cress in the UK’s most advanced solid-state Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Facility, based at the Univ. of Warwick.
Prof. Paul Dupree of the Univ. of Cambridge says, “For the first time we have been able to study the arrangement of molecules in woody plant materials. Plant cell walls provide the mechanical strength to plants. This major step forward in understanding the molecular architecture of plant cell walls will impact the use of plants for renewable materials, energy and for building construction”.
Profs. Ray and Paul Dupree have discussed the possibility of working together to solve outstanding questions in plant biochemistry for twenty years. Only recently has it become possible due to the ability to grow suitable experimental plants at the Univ. of Cambridge and the availability of the powerful NMR facility in Warwick.
Commenting on the use of the NMR Facility, co-researcher Prof. Steven Brown of the Univ. of Warwick says: “The NMR Facility is a flagship national success for shared equipment and multi-disciplinary research. Since its launch it has contributed to a broad range of ground-breaking research and we look forward to continue doing so in the years ahead.
“NMR spectroscopy is a vital analytical tool across science. It is a powerful technique that can provide detailed information on the three-dimensional structure and dynamics of molecules in solution and the solid state.”
The research is published in Biochemistry.
Source: Univ. of Warwick