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Front Plant Sci. 2014 Jun 30;5:306. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2014.00306. eCollection 2014.

Revealing changes in molecular composition of plant cell walls on the micron-level by Raman mapping and vertex component analysis (VCA).

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Department of Materials Science and Process Engineering, BOKU-University of Natural Resources and Life Science Vienna, Austria ; Institute for Building Materials, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zurich Zurich, Switzerland ; Applied Wood Research Laboratory, Empa - Swiss Federal Laboratories for Material Testing and Research Duebendorf, Switzerland.


At the molecular level the plant cell walls consist of a few nanometer thick semi-crystalline cellulose fibrils embedded in amorphous matrix polymers such as pectins, hemicelluloses, and lignins. The arrangement of these molecules within the cell wall in different plant tissues, cells and cell wall layers is of crucial importance for a better understanding and thus optimized utilization of plant biomass. During the last years Confocal Raman microscopy evolved as a powerful method in plant science by revealing the different molecules in context with the microstructure. In this study two-dimensional spectral maps have been acquired of micro-cross-sections of spruce (softwood) and beech (hardwood). Raman images have been derived by using univariate (band integration, height ratios) and multivariate methods [vertex component analysis (VCA)]. While univariate analysis only visualizes changes in selected band heights or areas, VCA separates anatomical regions and cell wall layers with the most different molecular structures. Beside visualization of the distinguished regions and features the underlying molecular structure can be derived based on the endmember spectra. VCA revealed that the lumen sided S3 layer has a similar molecular composition as the pit membrane, both revealing a clear change in lignin composition compared to all other cell wall regions. Within the S2 layer a lamellar structure was visualized, which was elucidated to derive from slight changes in lignin composition and content and might be due to successive but not uniform lignification during growth.


Raman microscopy; VCA; beech; cellulose; lignin; secondary cell wall; spruce; wood

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