Plant cell walls are typically described as complex macromolecular composites consisting of an ordered array of cellulose microfibrils embedded in a matrix of non-cellulosic polysaccharides and lignin. Generally, the plant cell wall can be divided into three major layers: middle lamella, primary cell wall, and secondary cell wall. Investigation of plant cell walls is complicated by the heterogeneous and complex hierarchical structure, as well as variable chemical composition between different sub-layers. Thus, a complete understanding of the ultrastructure of plant cell walls is necessary. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) has proven to be a powerful tool in elucidating fine details of plant cell walls at nanoscale. The present chapter describes the layering structure and topochemistry of plant cell wall revealed by TEM.
Part of the book: The Transmission Electron Microscope
Lignin in plant cell wall is a complex amorphous polymer and is biosynthesized mainly from three aromatic alcohols, namely, p-coumaryl, coniferyl, and sinapyl alcohols. This biosynthesis process consists of mainly radical coupling reactions and creates a unique lignin polymer in each plant species. Generally, lignin mainly consists of p-hydroxyphenyl (H), guaiacyl (G), and syringyl (S) units and is linked by several types of carbon-carbon (β-β, β-5, β-1, and 5–5) and ether bonds. Due to the structural complexity, various molecular spectroscopic methods have been applied to unravel the aromatic units and different interunit linkages in lignin from different plant species. This chapter is focused on the application of ultraviolet (UV) spectroscopy, Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy, Fourier transform Raman (FT-Raman) spectroscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy, and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to lignin structural elucidation.