Relative crystallinity of plant biomass: Studies on assembly, adaptation and acclimation

Darby Harris, Seth DeBolt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Plant biomechanical design is central to cell shape, morphogenesis, reproductive performance and protection against environmental and mechanical stress. The cell wall forms the central load bearing support structure for plant design, yet a mechanistic understanding of its synthesis is incomplete. A key tool for studying the structure of cellulose polymorphs has been x-ray diffraction and fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). Relative crystallinity index (RCI) is based on the x-ray diffraction characteristics of two signature peaks and we used this technique to probe plant assembly, adaptation and acclimation. Confocal microscopy was used to visualize the dynamics of cellulose synthase in transgenic Arabidopsis plants expressing a homozygous YFP::CESA6. Assembly: RCI values for stems and roots were indistinguishable but leaves had 23.4 and 21.6% lower RCI than stems and roots respectively. Adaptation: over 3-fold variability in RCI was apparent in leaves from 35 plant species spanning Ordovician to Cretaceous periods. Within this study, RCI correlated positively with leaf geometric constraints and with mass per unit area, suggestive of allometry. Acclimation: biomass crystallinity was found to decrease under conditions of thigmomorphogenesis in Arabidopsis. Further, in etiolated pea hypocotyls, RCI values also decreased compared to plants that were grown in light, consistent with alterations in FTIR cellulose fingerprint peaks and live cell imaging experiments revealing rapid orientation of the YFP::cellulose synthase-6 array in response to light. Herein, results and technical challenges associated with the structure of the cell wall that gives rise to sample crystallinity are presented and examined with respect to adaptation, acclimation and assembly in ecosystem-level processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2897
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 6 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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