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J Biomed Mater Res A. 2020 Feb;108(2):246-253. doi: 10.1002/jbm.a.36811. Epub 2019 Oct 29.

Pectin biopolymer mechanics and microstructure associated with polysaccharide phase transitions.

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Laboratory of Adaptive and Regenerative Biology, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.
Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology, Translational Lung Research Center, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.
The Joint BioEnergy Institute and Environmental Genomics and Systems Biology Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California.
Complex Carbohydrate Research Center and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.
Molecular and Integrative Physiological Sciences, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts.
Institute of Functional and Clinical Anatomy, University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz, Germany.


Polysaccharide polymers like pectin can demonstrate striking and reversible changes in their physical properties depending upon relatively small changes in water content. Recent interest in using pectin polysaccharides as mesothelial sealants suggests that water content, rather than nonphysiologic changes in temperature, may be a practical approach to optimize the physical properties of the pectin biopolymers. Here, we used humidified environments to manipulate the water content of dispersed solution of pectins with a high degree of methyl esterification (high-methoxyl pectin; HMP). The gel phase transition was identified by a nonlinear increase in compression resistance at a water content of 50% (w/w). The gel phase was associated with a punched-out fracture pattern and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images that revealed a cribiform (Swiss cheese-like) pectin microstructure. The glass phase transition was identified by a marked increase in resilience and stiffness. The glass phase was associated with a star-burst fracture pattern and SEM images that demonstrated a homogeneous pectin microstructure. In contrast, the burst strength of the pectin films was largely independent of water content over a range from 5 to 30% (w/w). These observations indicate the potential to use water content in the selective regulation of the physical properties of HMP biopolymers.


electron microscopy; fractography; pectin; polysaccharides


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