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How Does Hemicelluloses Removal Alter Plant Cell Wall Nanoscale Architecture and Correlate with Enzymatic Digestibility?


Thorough understanding of how hemicelluloses removal influences cell wall nanoscale architecture and cellulose digestion is of crucial importance for enabling low-cost industrial conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to renewable biofuels. In this work, delignified poplar cell walls, after various degrees of hemicelluloses removal, were characterized by Fourier transform infrared imaging spectroscopy and atomic force microscopy to evaluate enhancement in cell wall digestibility. There was a gradual decrease in hemicelluloses content with dilute alkali treatment, which resulted in alterations in the nanoscale architecture and crystallinity of cell walls. Removal of hemicelluloses did not disrupt the integrity of microfibrils but resulted in exposure of microfibrils and a decrease in the diameter of microfibrils. X-ray analysis indicated that the increase in crystallinity beyond natural variations in the crystallinity of cellulose was mainly attributable to removal of hemicelluloses. In conclusion, alterations in the architecture and crystallinity of cell walls facilitated enzymatic digestion of delignified poplar, enhancing cellulose conversion from 68.24 to 75.16 %.

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FT-IR microspectroscopy:

Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy


Atomic force microscopy


X-ray diffraction


Crystallinity index


Cell corner middle lamella


Compound middle lamella


Fiber secondary wall


Cellulose elementary fibril


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The financial support from the Chinese Ministry of Education (113014A) and the National Science Foundation for Distinguished Young Scholars of China (31225005) is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Feng Xu.

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Ding, D., Zhou, X., Ji, Z. et al. How Does Hemicelluloses Removal Alter Plant Cell Wall Nanoscale Architecture and Correlate with Enzymatic Digestibility?. Bioenerg. Res. 9, 601–609 (2016).

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  • Delignified poplar
  • Hemicelluloses removal
  • Nanoscale architecture
  • Enzymatic hydrolysis