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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Electron tomography unravels new insights into fiber cell wall nanostructure; exploring 3D macromolecular biopolymeric nano-architecture of spruce fiber secondary walls

Fernando, Dinesh; Kowalczyk, Michael; Guindos, Pablo; Auer, Manfred; Daniel, Geoffrey


Lignocellulose biomass has a tremendous potential as renewable biomaterials for fostering the "bio-based society" and circular bioeconomy paradigm. It requires efficient use and breakdown of fiber cell walls containing mainly cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin biopolymers. Despite their great importance, there is an extensive debate on the true structure of fiber walls and knowledge on the macromolecular nano-organization is limited and remains elusive in 3D. We employed dual-axis electron tomography that allows visualization of previously unseen 3D macromolecular organization/biopolymeric nano-architecture of the secondary S2 layer of Norway spruce fiber wall. Unprecedented 3D nano-structural details with novel insights into cellulose microfibrils (similar to 2 nm diameter), macrofibrils, nano-pore network and cell wall chemistry (volume %) across the S2 were explored and quantified including simulation of structure related permeability. Matrix polymer association with cellulose varied between microfibrils and macrofibrils with lignin directly associated with MFs. Simulated bio-nano-mechanical properties revealed stress distribution within the S2 and showed similar properties between the idealized 3D model and the native S2 (actual tomogram). Present work has great potential for significant advancements in lignocellulose research on nano-scale understanding of cell wall assembly/disassembly processes leading to more efficient industrial processes of functionalization, valorization and target modification technologies.

Published in

Scientific Reports
2023, Volume: 13, number: 1, article number: 2350