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Structural Investigation of Crystalline Cellulose in Plant Cell Walls Using High-Resolution Non-linear Spectroscopy and Microscopy

EMSL Project ID


Plants use much of the carbon and solar energy captured during photosynthesis to produce cell walls, which are a valuable resource of renewable energy. Plant cell walls are processed for use as lumbers, textiles, papers, and additives in foods, paints, films, etc. Recently, global efforts are underway to convert plant cell walls (which are collectively called as lignocellulosic biomass) to biofuels for transportation needs. Despite its biological and economic significance, many aspects of plant cell wall structures remain poorly understood. Among various biopolymers composing plant cell walls, cellulose is the most abundant and important constituent; its organization at both molecular and higher levels is a key factor determining the mechanical strength and degradability of plant cell walls. The PI recently reported that the vibrational sum-frequency-generation (VSFG) spectroscopy can selectively detect crystalline cellulose in plant cell walls and lignocellulosic biomass without interferences from non-cellulosic matrix polymers in the cell wall. This could open up new opportunities to study the molecular and structural assembly of cellulose chains in plant cell walls and their roles in plant growths as well as recalcitrance to biological degradation. However, the limited spectral resolution of conventional SFG systems poses a challenge in establishing molecular understanding of the obtained VSFG spectra in terms of crystal structure and spatial arrangement of cellulose in plant cell walls. The use of new high-resolution VSFG and scattering infrared near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM) at EMSL will allow us to separate overlapping features of structure-sensitive vibrational modes in crystalline cellulose microfibrils and find correlations between their spectral features and spatial arrangements in plant cell walls. This study will produce invaluable datasets needed to understand the non-linear optical responses of crystalline cellulose in plant cell walls, which will eventually lead to the development of analytical methodology needed to study the cellulose structure in plant cell walls and its roles in plant growths as well as recalcitrance to biological degradation.

Project Details

Project type
Large-Scale EMSL Research
Start Date
End Date


Principal Investigator

Seong Kim
Pennsylvania State University


Daniel Cosgrove
Pennsylvania State University

Team Members

Shixin Huang
Pennsylvania State University

Christopher Lee
Pennsylvania State University

Li Fu
Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory

Libing Zhang
Washington State University Tri-Cities

Zhehao Wei
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Related Publications

Lee CM, K Kafle, S Huang, and SH Kim. 2016. "Multimodal Broadband Vibrational Sum Frequency Generation (MMBB- V-SFG) Spectrometer and Microscope." Journal of Physical Chemistry B 120(1):102-116. doi:10.1021/acs.jpcb.5b10290
Zhang L, Z Lu, L Velarde, L Fu, Y Pu, S-Y Ding, A Ragauskas, H-F Wang, and B Yang. 2015. "Vibrational spectral signatures of crystalline cellulose using high resolution broadband sum frequency generation vibrational spectroscopy (HR-BB-SFG-VS)." Cellulose:1-16. doi:10.1007/s10570-015-0588-0