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Carbohydr Res. 2009 Sep 28;344(14):1863-71. doi: 10.1016/j.carres.2008.11.021. Epub 2008 Dec 14.

Microrheological investigations give insights into the microstructure and functionality of pectin gels.

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Institute of Fundamental Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.


Many of the functional attributes of pectin, whether in the plant cell wall or in engineered food materials, are linked to its gelling properties and in particular to its ability to assemble in the presence of calcium. Pectin's fine structure and local concentration relative to that of its cross-linking ion play a major role in determining resultant gel micro-structures, and consequently the mechanical and transport properties of pectin matrices. Recent studies have sought to probe the basic properties of such calcium-induced matrices, using a light scattering technique called diffusing wave spectroscopy (DWS). In addition to the low frequency mechanical behaviour, which provides information about the nature and density of cross-links, microrheological measurements carried out with DWS are able to determine the high frequency behaviour, which is closely linked to the response of the basic strands of the network. By using these microrheological measurements, two distinct regimes have been identified into which pectin gels appear to fall: one corresponding to the presence of semi-flexible networks, a generally accepted paradigm in biological gels, and another where flexible networks dominate. In order to explain the origin of these dramatically different networks, distinct assembly pathways have been proposed in which the relative importance of the free energy gained by association and the frictional barrier to polymeric re-arrangement during network formation can differ significantly. By manipulating the local environment in the plant cell wall it is possible that Nature makes full use of both of these network types for fulfilling different tasks; such as providing strain-hardening, maximizing local elastic properties or controlling macromolecular transport.

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