, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 173-207

Cellulose: the structure slowly unravels

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Abstract

This article attempts to bring together basic and complex information which has been gathered on cellulose structure, principally that of native cellulose, over the last few decades. Even though advances have been made in the field of crystallography, powder crystallography cannot yield a definitive cellulose structure and single crystal diffraction is not possible due to the lack of suitable crystals. Knowledge obtained on the biosynthesis of native cellulose and on the polymorphy of cellulose and its derivatives help our understanding of ultrastructure. Many inconsistencies between early crystallographic studies of native cellulose have been clarified by the discovery that two polymorphs (α and β) of cellulose I exist. Models of the possible ultrastructural arrangements within native cellulose have been put forward over the decades; with advancement in technology, computer simulations of small and large systems are being created to test the viability of these ultrastructural models. It is hoped that this review will aid in the understanding of the complexity and uncertainties that still exist in this subject